Breathing in polluted air affects our health, shortens our lifespan and costs our society billions of pounds every year. It is estimated that 2 million healthy life years have been lost in Europe due to the effects of poor air quality, creating the need to improve the air we breathe and make it a clear priority to reduce pollution.
Despite improvements in air quality over the past few decades, air pollution remains a significant environmental risk factor, which is why the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) aims to reduce human exposure through its cleaner air program to address existing health inequalities and improve outcomes. . For everyone.
Expanding the evidence base
The UKHSA program is organized around three key outcomes: increasing the evidence base, influencing and supporting stakeholders, and improving awareness and understanding.
We base this evidence by summarizing journals, reports and policies on a variety of topics, and by reviewing the effectiveness of interventions. The key to our research is our Health Protection Research Units (HPRUs), an existing partnership between Academia and the UKHSA, funded by the National Institutes of Health Research (NIHR).
Between 2014 and 2020, one such HPRU focused its research on air quality, the ‘health effects of environmental hazards’, ranging from in vitro laboratory studies to epidemiology studies. From 2020, four new HPRUs – partnering with the University of Leicester, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – will continue to research and answer key questions on air pollution, including:
- How does air pollution affect our health?
- How does exposure to air pollution change in different environments?
- How can we improve our understanding of indoor air quality?
- What can we do to reduce exposure?
Influence and support stakeholders
It is crucial that in order to support our stakeholders, UKHSA Air Quality representatives offer their expertise on air pollution to improve understanding of the problem across the country.
In preparation for Clean Air Day, Amanda Crasswell of the Department of Environmental Hazards and Emergencies (EHE) has joined Leeds City Council’s Public Health and Environmental Health team to encourage steps to improve health by reducing emissions, with Charlotte Landeg-Cox leading the discussion. . Consultation and engagement at the Transition Clean Air Network event ‘Beyond the Clean Air Zone’ in Birmingham.
On the occasion of National Clean Air Day, the London Air Quality and Health Program Office, hosted by UKHSA, presented a paper to the London Clinical Executive Group asking:
- Integrated care systems and trusts are committed to improving air quality and broadening the message of the need to address health inequalities; And
- Consider the detrimental effects of air quality on health and consider air quality when discussing local healthcare delivery and expedited action.
Improving awareness and understanding
Continuing from Public Health England, UKHSA continues to track environmental public health and monitor air pollution.
The goal of a new pilot surveillance system is to consider both the surrounding and internal aspects of air pollution exposure, and it is a tool that would be useful for stakeholder evaluation interventions aimed at reducing this exposure at the population level. Over time, the system should have the potential to incorporate links to health behaviors and outcomes.
What can you do?
Air pollution is a problem that affects all of us, but it is almost always the most socio-economically disadvantaged who suffer the most from its effects, as well as the most vulnerable in our society such as children and people with underlying conditions.
We can all do our best to improve air quality. By walking or cycling to the office and to school we can improve our health through exercise and later help limit air pollution – where you can walk those short distances and leave your car at home.
Talking is also essential – Ask local and national decision makers if it will be easier for you to walk in your local community and talk to friends, family and colleagues about the harms of air pollution.
According to the Global Action Plan, 82% of people think air pollution should be a priority for the UK, an increase of 11% over the last three years, where 90% now report doing at least one thing to help reduce outdoor air pollution.
The consensus around the need for clean air is clear, and each individual step combined with the impact of the steps taken by local and national governments will see the air we breathe in the future immensely improved.
You can read more about what UKHSA is doing to tackle air pollution in the latest edition of our Chemical Hazards and Toxins report, published June 16.
The Global Action Plan team has gathered all you need to know about air pollution in one place, published here.