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Take My Breath Away

23 February 2016 | Updated 01 January 1970
 

An important report from the RCP and the RCPCH looks at the premature death of 40,000 people in the UK and examines the impact of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime.

The report – Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution – is a collaboration between the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health  (RCPCH) and starkly sets out the dangerous impact air pollution is currently having on our nation’s health.

Each year in the UK, approximately 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution which currently plays a role in many of the major health challenges. It has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity and changes linked to dementia.

The health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution have a high cost to people who suffer from illness and premature death, health services and to business. In the UK, these costs are estimated to add up to more than £20 billion every year.

The report also highlights the often overlooked section of our environment – that of indoor space. Factors such as, kitchen products, faulty boilers, open fires, fly sprays and air fresheners, can cause poor air quality in our workspaces, schools and homes.

As a result the report offers a number of major reform proposals setting out what must be done if we are to tackle the problem of air pollution. These include:

  • Put the onus on polluters. Polluters must be required to take responsibility for harming health. Political leaders at a local, national and EU level ‘must introduce tougher regulations’, including reliable emissions testing for cars.
  • Local authorities need to act to protect public health when air pollution levels are high. When these limits are exceeded, they ‘must have the power to close or divert roads to reduce the volume of traffic, especially near schools’.
  • Monitor air pollution effectively. Air pollution monitoring by central and local government must track exposure to harmful pollutants in major urban areas and near schools. These results should then be communicated proactively to the public in a clear way that everyone can understand.
  • Quantify the relationship between indoor air pollution and health. There must be a strengthening of understanding of the key risk factors and effects of poor our quality. A coordinated effort is required to develop and apply any necessary policy changes.    
  • Define the economic impact of air pollution. Air pollution damages not only physical health but also economic wellbeing. There needs to be further research into the economic benefits of well designed policies to tackle it.
  • Lead by example within the NHS. The health service must no longer be a major polluter, it must lead by example and set the benchmark for clean air and safe workplaces.

The report also emphasises how the public can do their part to reduce pollutant exposure. Noting the impact collective action can have on the future levels of air pollution in our communities.

"We all have a part to play to cut environmental pollution,” observed Professor Stephen Holgate, asthma expert at Southampton University and Chairman of the reporting group. “We can't see it, smell it or taste it, which is why people do not necessarily think we have a problem.”

Picture: Common perceptions of air pollution are of factories belching smoke of car exhausts but it can be doing harm in workplaces too as a recent report this week points out

Article written by Mike Gannon | Published 23 February 2016

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