AMUK Healthy Living Blog


Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution

Author : Hazel Econs
Related Conditions : Asthma Symptoms & Treatment , Pet Allergy - Allergies to Dogs & Cats , Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)  produced in February 2016 an enlightening and thought provoking report entitled “Every Breath We Take”.

Some key points in the report are as follows :

    ▪    Each year in the UK around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution.  It has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and changes linked to dementia.

    ▪    An unborn child is not safe from the effects of pollution and we know that older adults are also vulnerable.  The effects are across a lifetime.  In addition, we are only too aware of the effects of our planet.

Although our environment has changed since the Industrial Revolution, coal burning has reduced dramatically, exhaust fumes have increased enormously.  Road traffic in 2012 was 10 times higher than in 1949.  Half of our cars in the UK run on diesel as well as almost all buses, vans and lorries.  

Outdoor Pollutants:
    ⁃    Particulates - small specks of matter such as soot, primarily from traffic, especially diesel engines
    ⁃    Nitrogen oxides - gases generated by vehicles or by chemical reactions in the atmosphere
    ⁃    Ozone - this gas is formed when other pollutants react in the atmosphere

Indoor Pollutants :
    ⁃    Tobacco smoke, probably the most serious cause of harm
    ⁃    Carbon monoxide from faulty boilers
    ⁃    Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are chemicals that start off as solids or liquids but readily evaporate, such as air fresheners, personal care i.e. spray deodorants, hair sprays and  cleaning products.
    ⁃    Formaldehyde vapour emitted by certain furniture, furnishings, fabrics, glues etc
    ⁃    House dust mites, mould, pollen and animal dander.

Health Related Problems:
There is good evidence that outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer.  It is likely that long term exposure is linked to the development of asthma and those who already have it air pollution can make it worse.

The RCP suggest it could be associated with the appearance of diabetes and also could damage the brain’s thinking abilities over time.  There is a strong link between air pollution and heart disease and strokes.

The evidence is so convincing that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified air pollution as a known cause of lung cancer.  As this condition is thought to take many years to develop, exposure in childhood could be linked to lung cancer in adults.

Gestation, infancy and early childhood are vulnerable times because the young body is growing and developing rapidly.  Heart, brain, hormone systems and immunity can all be harmed by air pollution.  Research is beginning to show the effects on growth, intelligence and development of the brain and coordination.   Harm to babies and children will have an impact that lasts far into the future.  So the air quality improvements we make now will have long lasting benefits.

Similarly, improving air quality will help older people and adults with long-term conditions to remain independent and well, easing the pressure on the health system.

    ▪    Find alternatives to travelling by car i.e. public transport, walk or cycle
    ▪    Aim for energy efficiency in our homes
    ▪    Keeping gas appliances and solid fuel burners in good repair
    ▪    Learn more about air quality and stay informed


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