Air pollution is a killer of millions. In China alone, about 1.4 million people a year die early due to medical complications arising from prolonged exposure. A new report spearheaded by the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health has revealed that the United Kingdom suffers from a similar, deadly problem: 40,000 deaths every year are attributable to air pollution.
In its various forms, air pollution can contribute to a variety of health problems, particularly those related to the lungs and heart. Those that already suffer from pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular afflictions, those with a weakened immune system, pregnant women, the very young and the elderly are all at high risk from falling dangerously ill in the presence of continuous air pollution.
By taking into account every possible source of air pollution, the areas and populations that are most exposed to it, and the medical records of those consequently admitted to the hospital, the direct effects of air pollution in the U.K. were comprehensively assessed. Indoor air pollution, in the form of second-hand smoking and toxic aerosols inadvertently generated by air fresheners and cleaning products, was also taken into account.
In addition, the indirect effects of air pollution were also considered. For example, how it negatively interacts with other factors, such as a person’s diet or socio-economic status. In addition, its contribution to man-made climate change was also factored in.
Back in 2010, the Department of Health estimated that long-term exposure to outdoor air pollution in the U.K. caused 29,000 deaths. This new report, particularly after taking into account updated nitrogen dioxide figures, estimates that air pollution now kills 40,000 people each year. The associated health problems cost the country’s health services $28.2 billion per year.
Despite the fact that, more recently, vehicle emissions have been heavily regulated by a variety of laws, the report finds that nitrogen dioxide is clearly out of control. This was of course perfectly encapsulated last year in the Volkswagen cover-up, wherein the German car manufacturer cheated on their nitrogen dioxide emissions tests.
“When you see cars piling up on the way to school [with parents] taking their children, the fumes directly from the vehicle in front are being vented straight into the car behind, and exposing their child,” said Professor Stephen Holgate, chairman of the reporting group, as reported by BBC News. “And yet we are ignoring this.”
The report suggests that there are a range of options to stem this deadly tide. Alternatives to car travel are heavily advised in order to reduce overall traffic volumes. Education is a must, particularly for the high-risk groups – learning the air quality of your residential area is essential.
Ultimately though, it firmly states that the onus should be placed on the polluters themselves. Only tougher regulations at a national and international level – including across the European Union – will make a significant dent in this problem.