Air pollution is a serious problem throughout the UK and most other places around the globe.
The British Lung Foundation, which will promote cleaner air through its Breathe Easy Week in June, said: “It is shocking that poor air quality has contributed up to 40,000 early deaths a year across the UK. It’s an invisible danger that hits hardest people with a lung condition, children and the elderly.”
Causing thousands of premature deaths, air pollution is also linked to many conditions and illnesses that can have a serious impact on the quality of life.
The annual event, Clean Air Day, takes place on 21 June. Organisers are urging people to leave their cars at home for the day after pollution-busting data gathered on the day of the London Marathon showed a huge drop in air pollutants during the largely traffic-free day.
Researchers from King’s College London monitored levels of air pollution during the London Marathon (22 April 2018) over 12 hours at the Walbrook Wharf monitoring site by Upper Thames Street. This was on the Marathon route, with planned road closures in place.
The results were compared to levels of pollution during the previous three Sundays in April. It may not be a surprise to learn that pollution levels were lower with hardly any cars around, but the levels might. There was a drop in all pollutants measured, and dangerous nitrous oxides (NOx) fell by 89%.
Larissa Lockwood, Head of Health at Clean Air Day organisers, Global Action Plan, said: “Taking collective action to tackle air pollution every day can make a massive difference, as shown at the London Marathon 2018. With traffic free streets pollution levels dropped by 89%. Imagine if more people left the car at home every day. We would suffer far fewer health problems from air pollution. Let’s take action together on Clean Air Day, 21 June, to make a real difference to the air we breathe.”
Outdoor pollution is not the only danger we face from the air we breathe because indoor pollution can be as bad or even worse.
A report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)said: "Being indoors can offer some protection against outdoor air pollution, but it can also expose us to other air pollution sources. There is now good awareness of the risks from badly maintained gas appliances, radioactive radon gas and second-hand tobacco smoke, but indoors we can also be exposed to NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] from gas cooking and solvents that slowly seep from plastics, paints and furnishings. The lemon-and-pine scents that we use to make our homes smell fresh can react chemically to generate air pollutants, and ozone-based air fresheners can also cause indoor air pollution."
We can control the atmosphere in our homes, taking stock of the products we use and installing ventilation systems, but we cannot do that with the air quality outside. What we can do is take small individual steps that come together to make a big difference, such as leaving cars at home whenever possible.
It was revealed earlier this month that London was considering introducing car-free days in various parts of the city on different days.
A spokesman for mayor Sadiq Khan said: “[He] is determined to do everything in his power to protect the health of Londoners and prioritise walking, cycling and public transport and reduce Londoners’ dependency on polluting cars. The mayor already supports a number of car-restricted days for annual events in London, and he has asked City Hall officials to consider additional opportunities for car-free activities as part of his healthy streets vision.”
London is not the only problem area. According to the latest report from the National Audit Office, 85% of UK 'air quality zones' still exceed legal pollution limits.
The charity, Living Streets, said that 42% of parents are concerned about levels of air pollution near their child’s school. It added that it would like to encourage more children to walk to school, as well as seeing more local authorities working with schools to ban driving up to the school gate.