Taking a breath of fresh air in the UK may not be quite as simple as you might think.
Pollution is a major problem in Britain, killing more people than in most Western European countries … there could be at least 40,000 deaths a year in the UK.
“Over short periods, high pollution levels can cause damage to the lining of our lungs,” Stephen Spiro, honorary professor of respiratory medicine at University College Hospital, London, said. “This can lead to coughing, wheeziness and breathlessness, particularly among people with a pre-existing lung condition.”
Strokes and cancer are linked to air pollution too.
Unsurprisingly, about a third of air pollution is from transport, says Alastair Lewis, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York.
This pollution consists of nitrogen dioxide — most of which comes from diesel engines — and fine particles known as particulates, released from exhausts and by the wearing down of brakes and tyres.
Official figures show that 37 out of 43 areas across the UK breach legal European Union limits for nitrogen dioxide, which is linked mainly to breathing problems.
Professor Lewis said: “The difference with cars is that unlike power stations, they are everywhere and close to where most people live. So the pollution they cause is disproportionately more important for public health.”
Last week diesel vehicles were accused of being one of the ‘worst offenders’ for PM2.5 by researchers who found that even PM2.5 levels well within the EU maximum can cause inflammation in the body and raise blood pressure.
Researchers at Imperial College London revealed that tiny diesel particles just 0.1 micrometres in diameter can directly affect the lungs and cause tighter airways and coughing.
Worrying Fact 1
Almost one stroke in three is triggered by air pollution, according to a worldwide study by Auckland University of Technology, in New Zealand.
Worrying Fact 2
Air pollution could be to blame for bad sleep. A study presented to the American Thoracic Society conference this month measured how long participants spent asleep and found their quality of sleep was affected by air pollution: the more exposure someone had to nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5, the worse their chances of a good night’s sleep.