lifecourseAir pollution has increasingly been shown as having a serious effect on health, to the extent that experts have claimed we are facing a "public health emergency".

Let's look at the impact on health.....

PM 2.5 effects

WHO's air quality database showed Bristol was one of the 44 out of 51 British towns and cities that had failed its tests for fine sooty particles smaller than 2.5 microns across (PM 2.5). The serious effects on our health of these microscopic particles found particularly in diesel exhausts are now beginning to be discovered.

pm25graphicThe particles, known as PM2.5s, have been linked to causing heart disease and premature death and they should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air, according to the WHO.

But a significant number of UK cities and towns exceeded the amount required to keep air safe.

Dr Toby Hillman, one of the report's authors from the Royal College of Physicians, said: "There isn't a safe limit for the amount of pollution that's been defined as yet and we know the effects of poor air quality run from cradle to grave; it's a lifetime threat to human health.

"This is a really direct and tangible impact on UK health from the drivers of climate change, and taking action on air quality should be a priority."

lifecourseSo how exactly can these PM 2.5 particles affect our health?

  • PM2.5 and smaller particulates are able to cross the placental barrier and enter the foetal blood stream.
  • The rapidly developing organ systems of the foetus are particularly at risk from the mother’s exposure to air pollutants, any damage occurring in this early period becoming fixed in the life time growth and development of the individual
  • Foetal exposure to PM 2.5 has been found to be associated with increased risk of autism spectrum disorde
  • PM 2.5 can also penetrate lung cell membranes, entering the blood stream of children and adults, and thus be carried to all areas of the body
  • Infants are particularly susceptible to air pollution. In areas where vehicle traffic is prevalent, they are in double jeopardy, firstly because they are often being moved around in buggies at a level close to car exhausts and secondly because they will be breathing a greater volume of air per minute than would an adult relative to their size. The health risk factor is further increased by their greater vulnerability to the harmful effects of the pollutants
  • The detrimental early effects on the foetal, infant and childhood development of a range of organs may well not become apparent until much later in life as natural physical decline in adulthood and older age becomes added to the much earlier ‘hidden’ effects of organ damage
  • In a recent American study, children living within 75 metres of a major road had a 29% increase of lifetime asthma
  • Exposure to air pollution in childhood is likely to be linked to lung cancer in adults
  • There is increasing evidence that mental development in children is affected by air pollution
  • Cardiovascular disease in adults is linked to exposure to air pollution
  • There is emerging evidence that exposure to air pollution is associated with new-onset type 2 diabetes

The above information is taken from the detailed account on the health effects of air pollution in the 2016 report of the Royal College of Physicians. This report also offers two different length summaries of the full one and can be found here.

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