Key Facts

What is air pollution?

  • Air pollution refers to local pollutants present in the air, such as nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.
  • On certain days, normally hot summer days with little wind, it can be seen visibly as smog, but usually it is invisible.
  • Air pollution comes from 3 main sources: transport, construction and heating. Most transport emissions come from diesel vehicles, including cars but particularly larger vehicles such as lorries and buses.
  • It is an issue that effects a huge number of people in the UK – 80% of people in urban areas are exposed to air pollution that is higher than WHO limits.
  • London exceeded its annual limit for air pollution in just five days in 2017.
  • It doesn’t just affect you when outside – you are more exposed to air pollution when inside your vehicle.
  • Indoor air pollution. from emitters such as gas cookers, heating, and fireplaces, can also have harmful effects on human health.

Why is it so harmful?

  • Around 40,000 deaths a year are attributed to air pollution (rate of 25.7 p/100,000 compared to 0.4 in Sweden – the best in EU)
  • It kills more people in the UK than Sweden, US (over double) and Mexico. We have the second worst air pollution in Europe (after Italy)
  • Air pollution has been strongly linked to cancer (air pollution classified as a known cause of lung cancer by International Agency for Research on Cancer), heart disease, and strokes.
  • It affects the most vulnerable and poorest people in society worst – deprived areas often have higher air pollution.
  • Children are 11% more exposed due to being smaller.
  • More 2000 schools and nurseries are within 150 metres of a road where NO2 is above legal limits and therefore harmful. Babies and children are particularly vulnerable – there is growing evidence that air pollution effects growth, intelligence, development of brain and coordination.
  • Early exposure to air pollution can damage the lungs, and increase the risk of possibly fatal lung infections.
  • Air pollution can have negative effects on unborn babies, and could be linked to premature birth.
  • Infants living in areas of high air pollution have an increased risk of death during the first year of life. Air pollution can also increase effects of respiratory infections in young children.

It has economic impacts too

  • A report by the Royal College of Physicians says that the costs of air pollution are more than £20bn a year. Reducing air pollution can ease pressure on NHS and social services, and generally improve people’s health, which has positive knock on effects for the economy.
  • Clean Air Zones could deliver £1bn in net value due to investments made in clean air technology.