What are the real effects of air pollution on the UK? ☁️

There’s lots written about air pollution, and we’ve blogged recently on court cases brought to the British government on pollution levels and targets. But what are the real, tangible consequences of air pollution in the UK at the moment; and what can be done to help tackle the problem? We investigate…

Why is this an issue now?

The British government has hit numerous headlines over the last few years on pollution issues, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan has branded the issues “a health emergency”. Historically, between 80-90% of plans and policies around pollution were spearheaded by the European Union; so with the country voting to leave the EU, a new independent approach will now need to be created.

The safe limit for polluted air is PM2.5 in an annual average concentration of 10 µg/m3 – which is a measure of particles such as dirt, soot, and smoke within the air, alongside carbon dioxide, sulphur oxides, and nitrogen oxides. The World Health Organisation (WHO) have measured levels in 51 cities across the country this year, and found only 11 of them were within the safe limit! The lucky 11 were Chesterfield, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Reading, Stockton-On-Tees, Wrexham, Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Grangemouth, Sunderland, Edinburgh, and Inverness. But it’s bad news for Gibraltar – they had the worst air quality, due primarily to ailing power stations.

But what does poor air quality actually mean for those in areas affected?

There’s a definite health concern, firstly. The particles measured are small enough to pass through the respiratory tract, which can result in a number of health and medical issues. DEFRA (that’s the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) estimate that at present, air pollution has a causal effect on 29,000 deaths every year. Their research also shows it reduces life expectancy by up to six months.

Healthwise, air pollution can cause difficulties in breathing, asthma, and increases the risk of heart disease. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer, alongside damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.

Of course, health issues aren’t just medical, but have causal financial costs, too. The British economy is estimated to cost £16billion per annum in healthcare because of these issues, and lost labour.

Air pollution also affects the environment around us. It’s a major contributor to global warming, and the emission of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide can produce acid rain – threatening biodiversity, ozone layer depletion, and overall sustainability.

What can we do about it?

Short of moving to a rural area, it may seem there’s not much you can do. But don’t despair – we have some ideas.

With 38,000,000 spare seats on British roads every rush hour, we (of course!) recommend liftsharing where you can, to do your bit and cut down on carbon. You can either offer our your spare seats or find a lift with someone else driving for your trips, whether they be one-off or regular.

If you think your organisation or areas could benefit from a branded Liftshare scheme, or automated personalised travel plans, get in touch with our Business Team.

The UK Air Quality Strategy maps out standards in regulation to reduce pollution levels, so you can write to your local MP or council to ask them what they’re doing to work towards it – and if you have any suggestions, let them know!

And finally, volunteer with ClientEarth, an NGO who fight for climate justice and have twice successfully taken government departments to court to push for better planning and tougher policy on air pollution.



Author Lex Barber


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