What causes air pollution?
In urban areas the main sources of air pollution are from road transport and the burning of solid fuels (coal and wood). In rural areas, agriculture and industry are the main contributors. Other sources include aircraft, construction sites, manufacturing, shipping, bonfires and fireworks, as well as cross boundary sources from other areas or even countries.
Health effects of air pollution
Particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are the most harmful to human health. Generally, for people in good health, short term, moderate exposure should not give any cause for concern. However, high levels or long term exposure can lead to the worsening of existing health conditions or the development of new cardiovascular/respiratory conditions.
In 2010 the Department of Health’s Committee on Medical Effects of Air Pollutants estimated the burden of Particulate Matter in the UK was equivalent to nearly 29,000 deaths in 2008, 25,000 of which were in England. DEFRA estimate the burden of Nitrogen Dioxide is equivalent to nearly 23,500 deaths per year in the UK. It is likely there is some overlap between the pollutants so it is not possible to estimate the total health burden.
The Public Health Outcome Framework advises on the percentage of deaths attributed to long-term exposure to Particulate Matter (PM2.5). PM2.5 is likely to partially contribute to a greater number of deaths, rather than directly contribute.
Ways to improve your health
You can improve your health by reducing your impact on, or exposure to, air pollution in the following ways:
On the road:
- When queuing or waiting at a level crossing, turn your engine off to save fuel and emissions
- Leave the car at home for short journeys.
- If you don’t use the car very often or need an occasional second car, consider joining a car club
- Consider buying a low emission vehicle.
- If a low emission vehicle isn't right for you, choose a petrol engine over diesel, as they generally produce less nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.
- Investigate car sharing schemes, such as Lift Share, this will not only reduce the number of cars on the road helping ease congestion and air pollution but it will also save you money. Car sharing websites allow you to input journeys in a variety of ways so you can use it for one off or regular trips.
- Work at home or start later to avoid peak traffic if you can. This will reduce your exposure, contribute to reducing congestion and save you money on fuel.
- Get your car serviced regularly and check tyre pressure, this will save you fuel too.
- Drive efficiently, it can save you fuel and reduce wear and tear on your vehicle, both of which can help reduce pollution.
- Service your central heating boiler regularly, it will be more efficient and burn less fuel.
- Burn dry seasoned wood or smokeless fuel on open fires to reduce particulate emissions.
- Switch from open fires to stoves, making sure to burn the right fuel type for the appliance and area you live in.
- Avoid bonfires as this adds to particulate matter. Make use of green recycling schemes for hedge trimmings, leaves, grass clippings, small branches and prunings.
- Recycle - the more we recycle, the lower landfill emissions.
- Conserve energy - the less we use, the less pollution is emitted from energy production.