Since London was issued with its first ‘very high’ air pollution alert at the start of the year, much has been written about the impact poor air quality has on our health. But does it affect yours?
Brixton Road in Lambeth, south London, became famous earlier this year when it breached its annual NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) allowance – just five days into 2017.
Later that month, on 23 January, London Mayor Sadiq Khan issued the first ‘Very high’ air-quality warning for the city.
This advises everyone within the capital to reduce physical exertion – particularly if they’re outside and by busy roads.
Cue a whole lot of media attention around the poor quality of the air we breathe.
Much of this has focused on NO2 (one of the NOx gasses), which is produced in large quantities by diesel cars.
And, while some car manufacturers are making progress on reducing the amount of toxic emissions from their models, many have a long way to go.
In our recent tests, we found that, despite universal limits, there are huge differences in the amount of NOx emissions produced by diesel cars from different brands, with Renault and Jeep among the biggest air polluters of the car makers we tested.
How bad is NO2?
So, what impact does NO2 have on your health? Well, there have been a number of scary reports concerning just that.
One study published in 2015 by the Environment Research Group at King’s College London, estimated that Londoners lost up to 88,113 life years to NO2 during 2010.
And it isn’t just London where poor air quality is a problem.
The Royal College of Physicians thinks around 40,000 deaths in the UK per year can be attributed to air pollution.
While a report from the European Environment Agency named poor air quality as the largest environmental health risk in Europe.
It’s widely accepted that NO2 inflames the airways and can lower immunity against lung infections.
Its effects are more pronounced on those who are vulnerable, such as the elderly and those who have an existing lung condition.
As a result to worsening air quality, major cities around the world are now committing themselves to banning diesel cars by 2025.
But do you notice poor air quality?
As someone with mild asthma, who lives by the sea but works in London, I notice a palpable difference in air quality between where I live and where I work.
That said, it isn’t the air quality that stops me from going out for a run on London’s streets during my lunch hour (it’s usually utter laziness).
But some people really suffer. The British Lung Foundation put me in contact with Janet Morrison, 62, whose existing lung conditions are worsened by traffic pollution.
‘I grew up in London but in 1966, at the age of 11, I moved to Southend-on-Sea in Essex. I had asthma as a child, but was diagnosed with emphysema and then bronchiectasis in my 30s and 40s – I’m now 62.
‘There’s a lot of traffic in Southend. It’s busy during the rush hours, but much worse at the weekend with all the tourist traffic, especially in the summer.
‘When the pollution gets bad, it feels like someone is sitting on my chest. I hate going out when pollution is high, but I can’t let it stop me.
‘I try to manage it with my inhaler, but if I’m driving somewhere in traffic, I have to close the vents in my car to stop the air coming in.’
What about you? Do you notice days when the pollution is bad? Do you have to take any precautions? Or has it never bothered you?