Lubbock Heart Hospital, Dec 16-17, 2005

Studies reveal new air pollution danger for hearts and lungs – now what?

Air pollution contributes to lung cancer incidence in Europe and is a danger to people living with heart failure, increasing their chance of hospitalisation and death. These are headline results from two studies published today in the Lancet.

This news comes only a week after the World Health Organisation published their review of evidence on the health impacts of air pollution, warning  that current EU air quality laws must be significantly tightened if they are to adequately protect our health. The lung study supports this further, finding significant associations between cancer and air pollution at levels below current EU standards.

Healthy Air Campaign partners the British Heart Foundation funded the study on heart failure, which is particularly thought provoking for us because it relates to short term exposure. Much of the health evidence around air pollution focuses on the effects of long term exposure, which is the gradual build up of damage over tens of years; but as this study shows, the body can also respond quickly to a high level of pollution in the air which, especially in vulnerable populations, can be fatal. This means that there are huge benefits that could be achieved right now by raising awareness and empowering people to reduce their individual exposure to these harmful pollutants.

Our primary aim is to persuade government to take action to meet legal limits for air pollution, but we have long been calling on government to also do more to warn the public when air pollution is high. In fact we regard it as a matter of social justice. The current policy of relying on people to proactively check an obscure government website or follow a specific Defra Air twitter account (currently boasting an underwhelming 550 followers) is at best half hearted and at worst obstructive.

We regularly speak to people whose lives are affected by air pollution. Take Rosalind, who was diagnosed with COPD and on certain days can’t make it to the local shops and back due to her condition. She has never been advised by a doctor that periods of poor air quality might worsen her symptoms. Nor has there ever been a public awareness campaign from central government, as there has been for other health issues such as alcohol, obesity, smoking and drink driving. Air pollution is not regularly in the news, or mentioned on weather forecasts. Why would she have spontaneously thought to check the Defra Air site or sign up to @DefraUKAir? Should we so heavily rely on social media for something this important, where older people are particularly vulnerable?

The Healthy Air Campaign tries to maintain a constructive outlook, and keep cynicism at bay. But government are allowing their interests in covering up air quality failures to interfere with their duty to warn vulnerable individuals of a health risk which can increase the risk of hospitalisation and death. The decision to issue a press release in 2011 has never been repeated, despite having stimulated broad (and perhaps uncomfortable?) press coverage.

The research published today makes the potential health gains of raised awareness of air pollution even clearer. It’s unforgiveable that government neglect to act to realise these benefits and protect the vulnerable.

See media  coverage from the BBCDaily Mail, and Guardian.

See press release from the BHF here.

photo by: brykmantra

2 Responses to Studies reveal new air pollution danger for hearts and lungs – now what?

  1. Mark says:

    Londoners can sign up for free air quality alerts from the airTEXT service. See http://www.airtext.info

  2. William Neish MBE CFM FIMI says:

    Sir,

    i have been working with a device which has given serius results in the reduction of emissions from vehicles and i have been prompted to contact you since i have seen that broadcasting from the British Heart Foundation on the need to reduce even by a small amount the emissions from vehicles and from a recent test done in London for me the results were positive to say the least in that i am advised that the NOX particulate is the most dangerours of them all and our device reduce this particulate alone by 62%
    i feel that due to the need for the reduction for mankind is now urgent and the new fuels which are well in the future will be to late for many and i am willing to part with our figures to see if they will assist in the project which you are involved in

    kind regards

    W.T.S.Neish MBE FIMI

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