Air pollution adversely impacts people’s health; the risk of developing diseases increases due to exposure to air pollution, such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and cancers (House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee,2010). Air quality has been a public health concern as prolonged exposure to air pollution can cause chronic health conditions that reduce an individual’s life expectancy (House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, 2010). Both indoor and outdoor pollution are accountable for the 7 million and 6.7 million deaths annually worldwide (Roser,2021). An estimated 28,000 to 36,000 deaths per year are attributed to air pollution resulting from human activity in the UK (PHE,2018).
In the UK, A significant air quality problem is being caused by three key pollutants (House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, 2010): –
- Nitrogen oxides (NOX): a group of gases primarily produced while burning fossil fuels. The most common component of these gases is nitric oxide (NO). However, NO can mix with other atmospheric gases to form nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas that is hazardous to human health; the two gases are referred to as (NOX).
- Ozon: a pollutant in the lower atmosphere; rather than being released directly from a human-made source, it is created by chemical reactions between different air pollutants, mainly nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (4).
- Particulate matter: (PM) is primarily produced by burning fuel in various industries and sectors, including transportation, energy, households, and agriculture. It contains minute particles from different compounds, such as sulphates, nitrates, sodium, carbon, mineral dust, and water. PM is classified according to particle size as smaller than 10 microns in diameter (PM10) or smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2). Furthermore, it represents the most significant health risk. Either PM2.5 and PM10 can penetrate deeply into the lungs. However, only PM2.5 can enter the bloodstream, principally having an influence on the heart and lungs but also having an impact on other organs (WHO,2021).
The risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, respiratory disease, and lung cancer, rises with exposure to PM2.5 and NO2, it aggravates underlying conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Pimpin et al.,2018)
Air pollution’s impact on health depends on how much people are exposed to and the length of exposure. For example, A few hours of exposure to a high level of NO2 can irritate the airways and result in severe coughing, worsening pre-existing respiratory infections, and becoming worse among vulnerable people, such as the ill, elderly or children. Prolonged exposure can increase the risk of developing several diseases, such as asthma, pulmonary disease, and lung cancer (Manisalidis et al.,.2020).
Children, older people and people with cardiovascular or respiratory problems are more likely to be affected by air pollution (Welsh Government 2019). Because of air pollution exposure, children are more likely to suffer from poor lung development and asthma symptoms (RCPCH,2018). Especially during foetal development and in their earliest years, their lungs, organs and brains are still developing because they breathe faster than adults, taking in more air and, with it, more pollutants. People who work in highly polluted places and travel in or through polluted areas are also at higher risk of pollution-related health problems (WHO,2018).
Poverty is strongly correlated with exposure to air pollution. Poverty causes people to rely on polluting energy sources for their basic needs and compounds the health risks associated with their use. Poverty also limits people’s capacity to improve the environment in which they raise their children. Air pollution is often a chronic problem in poor-quality housing and temporary settlements (WHO,2018).
According to a study, over 18 years, a reduction of 1 g/m3 in fine particle air pollution in England could avoid around 50,900 incidents of coronary heart disease, 16,500 strokes, 9,300 cases of asthma, and 4,200 cases of lung cancer (PHE,2018). However, Air pollutants (fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide) are predicted to cost the NHS and social care sector £1.6 billion between 2017 and 2025 (Pimpin et al.,2018).
Written by Doaa, BFoE placement student.
House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, 2010. Air Quality: Fifth report of session 2009–10. Authority of the House of Commons, London. Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmenvaud/229/229i.pdf
Manisalidis, I., Stavropoulou, E., Stavropoulos, A. and Bezirtzoglou, E( 2020) Environmental and health impacts of air pollution: a review. Frontiers in public health, p.14. Avaliable at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2020.00014/full?fbclid=IwAR1f2tGC8xhSMzCqeTWl2pnOr7XCXhucW90feHa11jnE8olvrMdbdLNi7cY
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RCPCH (2018). Every breath we take – the lifelong impact of air pollution. Available: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/file/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution-full-report
Roser, M. (2021) Data Review: How many people die from air pollution?, Our World in Data. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/data-review-air-pollution-deaths
Welsh Government (2019). The Clean Air Plan for Wales consultation – Healthy Air, Healthy Wales. Available:
WHO (2021) NEW WHO global air quality guidelines aim to save millions of lives from Air Pollution, World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/news/item/22-09-2021-new-who-global-air-quality-guidelines-aim-to-save-millions-of-lives-from-air-pollution .
WHO( 2018) Air pollution and child health: prescribing clean air: summary (No. WHO/CED/PHE/18.01). World Health Organization. Avaliable at https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/275545/WHO-CED-PHE-18.01-eng.pdf