Breathing in air pollution causes a range of health problems, and everyone who is exposed may be affected in some way. Short-term exposure, such as going for jog along a heavily polluted street, is worse for those with conditions like asthma.
Long-term exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause 29,000 premature deaths each year in the UK at an average loss of life of 11.5 years. This makes poor air quality one of the most serious public health risks facing us today.
This figure is over twice the number dying from passive smoking before the public smoking ban was introduced, and over three times the number of premature deaths associated with obesity.
The World Health Organisation has classified diesel exhaust as carcinogenic for humans, based on sufficient evidence that exposure is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.
Air pollution is associated with a myriad of health problems including respiratory diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis, asthma, impaired lung development in children, premature births and low birth weight, lung cancer and heart disease.
A European study suggested that living near busy roads could be responsible for some 15-30% of all new cases of asthma in children and of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coronary heart disease in adults 65 years of age and older.
Groups such as children, older people and people with asthma are particularly vulnerable to air pollution. See more detail in the ‘Am I at risk?’ section.
An overview of the main pollutants and their known health impacts can be found at: