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A report was published today in the UK on the affect of air pollution on our health. It is called “Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution” by the Royal College of Physicians.

The report explains the reasons for many of the traffic schemes explained on this website. The text below is taken from the report executive summary. The full report can be downloaded here.

Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution.

Air pollution plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day, and has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia. There are air quality concentration limits set by the EU and the World Health Organization. However, neither define levels of exposure that are entirely safe for the whole population.

Effects across a lifetime

This damage occurs across a lifetime, from a baby’s first weeks in the womb all the way through to the years of older age.

Gestation, infancy and early childhood are vulnerable times because the young body is growing and developing rapidly. We know that the heart, brain, hormone systems and immunity can all be harmed by air pollution. Research is beginning to point towards 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. For the same reason, any air quality improvements we make now will have long-lasting benefits.

Older people, and adults with long-term conditions, are also vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. Improving air quality will help them to stay independent and well, benefiting individuals and easing the pressure on health and social services.

Costs of air pollution

Annual early deaths in the UK from exposure to outdoor air pollution is equivalent to around 40,000 deaths. To this can be added further impacts from exposure to indoor air pollutants such as radon and second-hand smoke.

The health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution also have a high cost to society and business, our health services, and people who suffer from illness and premature death. In the UK, these costs add up to more than £20 billion every year (~28€ billion).

Vulnerable people are prisoners of air pollution, having to stay indoors and limit their activity when pollution levels are high. This is not only unjust; it carries a cost to these individuals and the community from missed work and school, from more health problems due to lack of exercise, and from social isolation.

Taking action will reduce pain, suffering and demands on the health system, while getting people back to work, learning, and an active life. The value of these benefits far exceeds the cost of reducing emissions.

The most vulnerable suffer the most harm

Air pollution is harmful to everyone. However, some people suffer more than others because they:

• live in deprived areas, which often have higher levels of air pollution

• live, learn or work near busy roads

• are more vulnerable because of their age or existing medical conditions.

Some chemicals in air pollution may be implicated in the development of obesity. It may be a vicious circle, because we also know that obese people are more sensitive to air pollution.

These vulnerabilities are heightened among those living in the most deprived communities. This is due to poor housing and indoor air quality, the stress of living on a low income, and limited access to healthy food and/or green spaces. Moving away from an area of high outdoor air pollution may be unaffordable for local residents. Some people may not want to leave their homes – and they should not have to.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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