Air pollution and why it's important?
The term ‘air quality’ refers to the cleanliness of the air we breathe. Major pollutants that contribute to poor air quality in urban areas are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM).
NO2 is a poisonous, invisible gas and is one of a family of related gases called nitrogen oxides, or NOx. NO2 forms when fossil fuel is burned, for example in petrol or diesel vehicle engines or gas in boilers. NO2 is a respiratory irritant and can have a variety of harmful effects on the lungs, including inflammation, worsened coughing and wheezing, and increased asthma attacks.
Particulate matter (PM) is tiny particles, or pieces, of solids or liquids that are in the air. Human activities are a significant source of PM pollution, such as burning fossil fuel and construction activity. PM10 and PM2.5 refers to the size of the particles in micrometres (one-thousandth of a millimetre). Both PM10 and PM2.5 can be harmful to your health, with PM2.5 the more dangerous of the two due to the particles being so small that they can reach deep into the lungs and bloodstream. Long-term exposure to PM can increase the risk of heart and lung disease, while short-term exposure can worsen existing health conditions.
Health impacts of air pollution
Exposure to polluted air can seriously impact your health regardless of your age or existing health status. Both short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution can cause and contribute to a variety of chronic illnesses such as asthma, heart disease, and cancer.
Air pollution exposure causes between 28,000 and 36,000 early deaths each year in the UK, and about 9,400 in London. While everyone is at risk from exposure to poor air quality, pollution disproportionately affects more vulnerable communities, such as children, older people, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing health issues.
In the following pages, you will find out more about air quality in your local area, how it is measured, and the steps the Council is taking to improve air quality in the Borough and protect the health of residents.
For more information about air quality and its impact on health, visit Public Health England’s health matters: air pollution page.