The 16th of June 2022 is Clean Air Day, the biggest air pollution campaign in the UK. The campaign is now in its sixth year of existence and awareness, having been inaugurated back in 2017. Since then, this air pollution campaign has spurred on hundreds of events and engaged thousands of people, and millions more through media. Clean Air Day’s biggest goals are to edify the public’s understanding of both indoor and outdoor air pollution, to bring to light the effects of air pollution on our health, and to educate the public on various steps that can be taken to tackle air pollution to protect our health and the environment.
Air pollution is a huge problem, and it’s been that way as early as the mid-1950s when its deathly potential materialised. The Great Smog of London occurred between the 5th and 9th of December in 1952 and over the course of five days killed at least 4 000 people, although it is estimated to have killed up to 10 000! The cause was attributed to industrial pollution and high-pressure weather conditions. In New York in 1953, 230 people died over a span of 6 days due to intense smog. Deadly incidences such as these raised alarm bells, prompting world leaders to start enacting legislation. Over the decades inroads have been made, but as we all know, not nearly enough has been done. If so were the case, we wouldn’t be facing the multiple assaults of climate change. In the UK alone air pollution has an annual death toll of 36 000 people.
This year’s Clean Air Day theme
The theme of 2022’s campaign is: “Air pollution dirties every organ in your body. Take steps to improve your health this Clean Air Day.” It’s an apt theme because it’s true – air pollution can inflict harm upon every organ in the body. Once inhaled, it can inflame the lining of the lungs, enter the bloodstream, and proceed to affect every organ, leading to strokes, dementia, heart disease and lung disease. Put another way, air pollution has a knock-on effect on our health. We’re still not completely in the clear when it comes to COVID-19 either and air pollution places us at a greater risk of contracting it. According to WHO, 99% of the world breathes contaminated air and air that doesn’t subscribe to the WHO Air Quality Guidelines.
Why is air pollution awareness so vital?
To say that raising awareness around air pollution is vital would be an understatement. The world as we know it is deeply embedded in the ramifications of the industrial revolution. We’re reliant on archaic forms of energy – coal, natural gas, and fossil fuels – and the controlling powers and interests in these groups are not likely to relinquish overnight. However, to say that we’ll never wean ourselves off our current modes of power generation and transportation would be to overlook humankind’s capacity to move on from one thing to the next, to leave an outdated mode of doing something behind, and evolve. To illustrate, for thousands of years the horse was the dominant means of getting from A to B. There was a time when the horse and the stream train existed alongside one another. These forms of transportation have largely been abandoned. From such a perspective, it is safe to assume that there will come a time when we will adopt a much more sustainable form of energy and everything that comes with it. Until such time, however, it’s important to realise what we could face if we don’t start to get our act together. It has been suggested that if we don’t do anything about climate change, then by the year 2050 mask wearing, a perpetual cough, and tremendous heat will be constants in our lives.
The vulnerable are most affected
While we ALL breathe polluted air, this is through no doing of our own but rather more a legacy issue. Beth Gardiner, a prominent environmental journalist released a book in 2019 titled: Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future. Meticulously researched, the book provided a global account of air pollution and its ramifications. Amongst the various topics covered was how air pollution and its effects were tied to economic inequality – the poor are more exposed and thus suffer more harm. And regrettably, it makes complete sense – anyone with less money to spend on housing often ends up living near a factory, an industrial area, a port or a busy road. The author also revealed that the biggest changes happened through regulation – government implementation. This once again brings us back to the fact that real long-term change mostly happens at the top.
In the immediate future…
Yes, government and regulatory frameworks are what is needed to affect large-scale change, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that can be done on a personal level. Everyone in their personal capacity experiences air pollution, and everyone can do things about it, starting with personal exposure – the extent to which you experience air pollution during normal daily activities. Typically, such activities would entail places and spaces you occupy like your home, your daily commuting, and wherever you spend time for work, study and leisure.
Personal exposure and how to reduce it
Traveling is a key contributor to personal exposure, and thus it is recommended that you try and make changes within its broad scope. Pollution levels vary in terms of location and time, thus you can elect to change the routes you use, or to use the routes at different times. Proximity is also a key consideration, for instance, babies in prams and young children may possibly consume up to 60% more polluted air than adults on a school run purely because their breathing zones are lower and thus closer to vehicle emissions. Fifty-five percent of transport greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and taxis alone. Thus, if possible, try and steer clear of the edge of the road when walking as it can lower your exposure.
Capitalise on pedal power
Walking and cycling, also known as active mobility, should ideally become your go-to forms of transport whenever possible, especially during peak traffic times, as being in a car will increase your personal exposure. The health benefits of walking and cycling, especially if you’re healthy, have been shown to outweigh the bad effects of air pollution. In some ways, this scenario is a double-edged sword: on one hand you’re not using a car and thus you’re not increasing your carbon footprint, but on the other hand, you’re still in an environment that exposes you to emissions. In a case like this, the Cambridge Mask BASIC will present an immediate solution. Our BASIC masks filter over 95% of pollution, gases, viruses and bacteria, and provide up to 90 hours of use. In addition, one BASIC mask replaces 40 single-use masks and stops 2kg’s of plastic waste from entering oceans and landfills. Hence, with a Cambridge BASIC mask, your exposure to emissions will be dramatically less and you’ll be using a product with a much friendlier environmental impact.
Find quieter routes
When possible, steer clear of walking along busy roads and opt for quieter streets to reach your destination – ideally parks, green spaces and pedestrianised areas should be utilised. Air pollution clusters around busy roads and even putting a short distance between yourself and such roads can yield positive results. Your exposure to pollution can be reduced by 20% if you opt for quitter roads or routes.
Tips for driving
Naturally, there will be times when the car is unavoidable, however, even when driving, you can still implement some changes to reduce exposure to yourself, your family and community. For one thing, try and avoid idling and rather turn off your engine – this is particularly useful in peak times or when standing at a traffic light. Many modern cars have this feature built-in, but if not, turn off the engine. Drive more conservatively and thus avoid sudden acceleration or breaking. Not only will you reduce wear and tear, but you’ll also lessen your emissions. Finally, and monetary resources permitting, go electric. Electric vehicles account for over 16% of the market share. In addition, many car clubs offer such vehicles and there are now more electric cars and buses in transit.
At the end of the day, regulation and legislation are what will be needed to affect real and long-term environmental changes. However, as individuals, we are not powerless and through education and personal implementation, can do things to lessen, curb and curtail our exposure to air pollution. This National Clean Air Day lets us all pitch in to lessen our personal exposure and our carbon footprint.