Be Careful Where You Breathe

I love living in London, and for all its faults, am proud to call myself a Londoner. I just wish it wasn’t a city with such terrible air quality.  You can’t always see it, and often can’t smell it but the numbers are there. London has reached over the legal toxic level and it’s beginning to hit home.


What you need to know

This last year I’ve spent time in A&E with my young daughter suffering from breathing problems. The last time, there were three other young children in beds next to her all complaining of breathing problems. I’ve been told it’s an allergy. To what though, no one knows. I’m convinced it’s air pollution. Havingread this article about the increase of children being admitted into hospital I’m even more convinced she’s part of the statistic. the first death of a child has been proved to be caused by air pollution and there have been articles highlighting the effects of air pollution on babies in prams by the BBC. It’s pretty scary that anyone less than a metre from the ground (from being in a pram or short in height) is more affected. Mums for Lungs, a south London based group campaigning against air pollution posted this image on twitter highlighting just that.

Air pollution is causing health problems each year with over 9000 deaths connected to air pollution in London alone. It’s the tiny NOx particles (nitrogen oxides are most relevant for air pollution) from car fumes that are harmful.

London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan is introducing the ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) in Londonto help address this. It is going to effectively tax vehicles who have high emissions from coming into central London. This is a great step towards cutting emissions, but this won’t benefit all of London and it is only addressing one part of our air quality problem.

There’s a misconception that air pollution is purely caused by road traffic. Although it originates from motor vehicles, other aspects play a large role; industrial facilities, residential fire places, wood stoves, power generation, agricultural burning and tobacco smoke.


What can we do?

I’ve been left wondering what I can do to prevent the effects of air pollution on mine and my family’s health.  I’ve seen adverts asking drivers to turn off their engines when parked, cyclists wearing face masks as they commute the busy streets and apps released to help you monitor the air where you live. Does any of this actually help?

There are definitely days when I notice the air quality isn’t as good as it could be and find myself sneezing and coughing. So, what can we do about it? Of course, systemic change needs to happen to clean up our cities (luckily our government are working on it), new policies need to be created and travel behaviours need changing. In the meantime, here are four simple things everyone can consider:


1. Reroute your journey

Avoid being in high pollution areas by choosing to walk down quieter roads. Studies have been done which show that even keeping furthest away from the road on the pavement reduces your expose to car fumes. The tiny particles that have the worst effect on our health, don’t travel far.  That means that if you keep away from the busy roads, you’re keeping away from the nasties they give off (You can also help the situation by deciding to use your car less often).


2. Rethink your day

Air pollution monitors (you can buy one or look the levels up online) will give you an indication of how bad the pollution is each day. Levels tend to get worse later in the day and are particularly bad when it’s warm and sunny. Therefore, consider how you plan your day and so you can be outside first thing and stay indoors late afternoon. Check out this graph which shows our exposure to air pollution over a 24 hour period.

And avoid heavy physical activity on high air pollution days. The faster you breathe, the more air pollution you inhale.


3. Add more green

Unfortunately, air pollution creeps into our homes (and isn’t helped by pollutants from cleaning products and perfumes) and unless you have amazing filters on your doors and windows, it’s near impossible to avoid. You can, however buy more plants which absorb toxins from the air. Companies like Lend Lease are doing just this in their offices to help improve the air quality in the work place. 

And Mexico are going one step further with project ViaVerde and installing plants on busy road to create better air quality, reduce noise, increase thermic regulation and reduce less stress.


4. Help your house breathe

Stale air inside your house can also have a negative effect on your health and it’s advised that you circulate the air you’re breathing. Velux have raised this problem on their website stating that Indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outside air. It’s important to open your windows to get a flow of air or invest in a fan which has an HEPA (high pressure air purifier) filter in it. Check out the Dyson ones here.


Changing habits and changing policy is what’s needed. I’m not sure how long it will take for the dangerous levels to reduce in London but let’s all do our part and stay positive that change is happening.



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