A new report by the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Paediatrics and Child Health has found that outdoor air pollution contributes to the early deaths of around 40,000 people every year in the UK. This is due to the poor control of diesel emissions, as well as the effect of indoor emissions which are often overlooked when it comes to pollution policies. In light of these worrying figures, going green and making an effort to reduce our emissions is vital, not just for the environment but for our health too. All it takes is a few simple changes on your part to make a difference.
What the report is telling us
The report discusses the dangerous impact of air pollution on our health, and its contribution to conditions such as cancer, stroke, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even links with dementia. The effects of air pollution on those with existing health problems is significant, leading not only to premature death, but costing UK businesses and health services over £20 billion each year.
As well as a look at the air pollution caused by vehicles, industry and other causes, the report also looks in more detail at the effect of indoor pollution sources such as different kitchen products, fires, air fresheners, faulty boilers and other products, which can also have an effect on our health.
What needs to be done?
The report calls for a number of measures to be taken in order to improve the quality of our air, and our health in the process. These include measures such as:
- Tougher penalties for polluters on an EU, national and local level, including ensuring more reliable emission testing for motor vehicles.
- Local authorities need to do their bit to protect public health when levels of pollution are raised, for example – adjusting traffic near populated areas or schools to avoid a build-up of emissions.
- Closer monitoring of air pollution levels by the government.
- More research into the relationship between health and indoor pollution.
- Define the impact that air pollution is having on our economy.
- Ensure that the NHS leads by example in putting clean air policies into practice.
What can you do?
Whilst implementing new policies and regulations on a government level can help to reduce the impact of air pollution, there are measures that we as individuals can employ to ensure that our proximity to pollutants is limited to benefit our health and that of others. Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference, and some of the ways in which you can help include:
Not relying on cars for transport
Sitting in traffic for countless hours is not a good move for your health. If it’s possible to travel by public transport such as train or bus, then you should do so. If your commute is walkable, try walking or even cycling, but try to avoid areas where you know there will be busy traffic – a park or a more scenic route will ensure you get plenty of fresh air, whilst also proving to be a mood booster.
Be more energy efficient in your home
Try to be more energy efficient. Smart technology and different mobile applications make it easier for you to control your energy use at home, ensuring that it only gets used when you really need it.
Make sure that your solid fuel and gas appliances are regularly maintained
Appliances which are faulty can burn excessive fuel, so it’s important that you book regular check-ups for anything which uses gas or solid fuels in your home. Faulty gas equipment can be extremely dangerous, so don’t neglect these elements of your home.
Try alternatives to chemical cleaning products and aerosols
There are more and more home and beauty products which are being launched to help us tackle the use of chemical products in our homes. Switch to more eco-friendly products, which work as effectively as other products but are kinder to the environment and your home.
As part of the RCP report, it is recommended that individuals follow ‘Breathe’ and do the following:
B e aware of the air quality where you live
R eplace old gas appliances in your home
E nsure you have an energy efficient home
A lter how you travel. Take the active travel option: bus, train, walking and cycling
T alk to your MP
Harness technology to stay informed and monitor air pollution effectively in a bid to secure a healthier future through cleaner air.
If you’re at all concerned that your health is at risk, contact your GP for a check-up, especially if you have an existing health condition which could be exasperated by pollution.