Air Quality and the Impact on Human Health
Air quality describes the state of the air that we breathe which, unknown to some, can become something that causes damage to our health. Air pollution, the cause for harm to our wellbeing, compromises of gases and small particulate matter within the air which often we’re unable to see. Pollutants, such as nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, PM10) are emitted through a variety of sources, like fuels from cars, buses, and dust at construction sites. These concentrations can also be worsened or improved by prevailing weather conditions.
Different levels of exposure to such pollutants contributes to varying levels of health problems such as diabetes, lung disease, COPD and can worsen symptoms of existing health issues like asthma. It can be daunting thinking about the implications of exposure to air pollution, but here are lots of things we can do day to day to improve air quality for ourselves and for those around us thus reducing the risks to human health.
Things You Can Do to Improve Air Quality
1. Ditch the car
Driving is a well-known contributor to increased air pollution all around the world. Even sitting inside a car when in traffic can heighten your exposure due to tailpipe fumes from nearby vehicles entering the car and your airways. Choosing to ditch the car and deciding to walk or cycle to nearby destinations can not only reduce air pollution but is also better for your physical and mental health, wellbeing and benefits the wider environment.
2. Find a cleaner, alternative route
When walking or cycling, find a quite route which is at least 50 meters away from busy roads. Doing this will limit your exposure to traffic borne air pollution as concentrations drop significantly with distance. If you can find a location with dense green foliage, this is even better as it can act as a protective screen to air pollution that otherwise may be able to reach you.
3. Avoid cycling or running on main roads during peak hours
By avoiding cycling or running at traffic heavy locations during busy periods, you will avoid breathing in two to three times more air containing fumes than you would if you were in a car or a bus.
4. Reduce activity during pollution spikes
Anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors. Adults and children with lung and heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, if they experience symptoms. People with asthma may need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Elderly people should also reduce physical exertion.
1. Share the journey
By choosing to use public transport or making use of carpooling schemes where available, this lowers the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing congestion, journey times and subsequent tailpipe emissions.
2. Don’t be idle
If you need to park up on the side of the road, or if you’re dropping children off at school, don’t let your car engine idle especially when outside of built-up areas as air pollution has less opportunity to dissipate. This is particularly important when outside of school gates, as increased air pollution due to idling cars can have a significant impact on children whilst they’re outside and inside of the school.
3. Accelerate as smoothly as possible
Using the throttle of cars is a major cause of urban exhaust emissions, which has an impact on you inside of the car as well as those outside the car. To avoid this, make sure you’re driving smoothly and avoiding unnecessary or sudden accelerations.
4. Turn the cars air conditioning to internal circulation
If you’re using the air conditioning when driving, turning it to internal circulation will mean the vehicle wont suck in air pollution from the road, especially from nearby buses and lorries. It’s also important to keep in mind that this should only be used for a limited time as you’ll be recycling air inside the car which may already be polluted.
5. Switch to electric
Switching to an alternative fuel vehicle is better for the environment and your wallet. There are fully electric, hybrid fuel and fuel-efficient cars available with more options increasingly on the market from car manufacturers, so it’s getting easier to find the right option. Depending on the type of vehicle, electric cars are battery powered so emissions are heavily reduced.
6. Car care
Simple things go a long way in helping the environment and your car. Make sure to check regularly check the engine, change the fuel, and air filters annually and inflate the tyres appropriately. You should also fill your car after sunset to reduce smog, as this keeps evaporative emissions from reacting with sunlight to form ozone pollution (smog).
When at Home…
1. Ventilate your home
Keep your home well aired to reduce the build-up for indoor pollutants, but if you can try and limit opening windows facing busy roads to quiet times, then do so as this lowers the risk of nearby air pollution entering the home. Find out what the air quality is like for your postcode with a free air quality report from our partner, Aqua Perfecta, and use their recommended air purifiers to clean the air of any toxins. The British Lung Foundation also have some good advice on indoor pollution.
2. Don’t spray
Aerosols like hairspray, furniture polish, cooking spray, bathroom cleaner, air freshener, antiperspirants, insecticides, and hobby craft sprays all generate air pollution. By avoiding using sprays and choosing to use solids, sticks and gels instead, this can help to keep air quality safer than using the aforementioned.
3. Location, location
If you’re renting or already own your own home, try and spend time in well-ventilated rooms facing away from traffic and busy roads. If you’re looking to buy, why not use Future Climate Info environmental reports that include our MappAir® air quality data to choose an area away from pollution hot-spots, with lots of greenery and open spaces.
4. Be energy efficient
Common sense ideas include switching off lights and appliances when not in use, consider solar energy and energy efficient lighting, insulate your house and water heater. These will mean you save energy on your utility bills as less fuel is also burnt in power stations so less emissions.
5. Reduce wood burning
Domestic burning, such as lighting fires or using gas stoves, generates air pollution which contributes to unsafe levels. Avoid burning wood where possible such as on cold days, as these days are when usage of wood burning is likely to increase, and this has an impact on you and those living near you. Choose to install electric burners instead which avoid the need to burn wood.
Spread the Word
1. Get in touch or make contact
There are many local action groups who can often provide support if you’re concerned. Alternatively, your Local Authority will also have a dedicated air quality or environmental team who you can contact, and they may be able to give you site measurements of pollution in your area.
2. Get political
Why not write to your MP or local cycling pressure group for advice or support? You can also write to the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) which advises the government on all matters concerning the health effects of air pollutants. Find out more here.
3. Get involved
You (yes, you) can set up or join a community action group to address air pollution in your local area. Visit Facebook or Twitter to drive awareness among your community, speak to your neighbours, write a letter to nearby schools, and let people know that it’s possible for you to work together to take action.
Evidence the Impact of Your Actions
When wanting to drive behavioural change among communities, making use of our air quality monitoring and modelling technologies enables the likes of local authorities, environmental professionals, and other commercial companies to prove how effective these actions are at improving air quality.
We’re always happy to help advise on how our services can help businesses make changes to work towards cleaner, and safer air pollution concentrations. Get in touch with us at www.earthsense.co.uk/contact for more information!