Air pollution can cause both short term and long term effects on health meaning many people are concerned about pollution in the air that they breathe. Air pollution can particularly have an effect on people with existing health problems such as asthma or other breathing conditions.
Outdoor air pollution contributes to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Ozone is a major contributor to these early deaths. Ozone is released in vehicle emissions and is a respiratory irritant of which levels are strongly affected by the climate. As a result of warmer temperatures, background levels of ozone are increasing across Europe. Present day ozone-related mortality is estimated to be up to around 11,900 premature deaths per year and increasing temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius is projected to lead to an increased ozone related health burden of 4% (around 500 premature deaths per year in the UK).
Particulate Matter in the air also contributes to premature deaths. Particles may contain smoke, dust, soot, metals, nitrates, sulphates, water and rubber from tyres. They can get deep into your lungs, causing irritation and inflammation, and some may make it into your bloodstream. Heart disease and lung conditions are most commonly linked to inhaling air pollution, but the liver, spleen, central nervous system, brain, and even reproductive system can also be damaged.
Free, and easy to use information on air pollution in the UK is available from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for access to the public, with up to date daily air pollution levels. But despite this information body, there is little being done by DEFRA to tackle the air quality levels. Of the UK’s 43 air quality zones, 38 have failed to meet the Nitrous Oxide limits stipulated by the EU and are unlikely to reach them before 2020.