What Are The Effects Of Air Pollution On Health?


The Law Of… understanding how pollution affects our health

12 million people in the UK suffer from lung disease and yet it is under-prioritised by the NHS, Government and health bodies. Simpson Millar, in partnership with the British Lung Foundation, are aiming to raise awareness of lung disease, and provide support to those who suffer with any kind of respiratory disease as a result of rising levels of air pollution.

Air pollution has contributed to up to 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK. Whilst this has prompted frustration from people across the UK, what can be done to protect the public from the illegal levels of pollution found all over the country?

To raise awareness of the risk of air pollution, Industrial Disease solicitor, Phillip Gower answers some common questions about air pollution and its effects on health.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Health?

Air pollution and industry has been proven to lead to premature deaths of more than 3 million people a year across the globe. There are a number of poisonous gasses that are commonly found in the air we breathe.

The main pollutants are:

  • Sulphur dioxide – from the burning of fossil fuels, mostly power stations
  • Nitrogen dioxide – found mostly near heavy road traffic and indoor gas cookers
  • Ozone (ground-level) – caused by chemical reactions between traffic and industrial pollution when in strong sunlight
  • Particulate matter (PM) – primarily from road traffic.
  • Metals, including lead, mercury and arsenic – controls on emissions help with this particular issue

All of these substances can have devastating effects on the health of anyone coming into regular contact with them.

The areas of the body that are most acutely affected are:

  • The lungs – these substances can suppress the lung growth in children. They can accelerate the decline of lung function and cause lung cancer. Air pollution is also linked to asthma
  • The pancreas – air pollution has been linked to type 2 diabetes in adults
  • The heart – some of these poisonous substances have been linked to the development of cardiovascular diseases. They can also exacerbate conditions that already exist
  • The brain – exposure to excessive air pollution of a mother can affect the brain growth of an unborn child. It also impacts mental and physical development in children and cognition in adults.

How Can I Avoid Air Pollution Related Health Issues?

It can be quite difficult to find information on the best way to avoid air pollution related health risks, as often, the information appears quite conflicting. The advice also differs for people who suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma and lung disease. But following such advice can reduce your exposure to air pollution and as a result, improve your health.

Check The Daily Air Quality Index

The Daily Air Quality Index gives you an indication of the expected levels of air pollution for the next week. By checking this before making plans to travel or pursue activities outside, you can make an informed decision about where you go and how you get there. 

Stay Indoors

Whilst this may seem like controversial advice, it can be a good option to stay indoors when pollution levels are high, particularly if you suffer from asthma or lung disease.

Concentration levels of pollution are much lower indoors, so it can make for a much less risky environment to stay in. If you are fit and healthy, it is still wise to avoid physical exertion on days with particularly bad pollution.


Exercise has been scientifically proven to improve lung function and cardiovascular capacity. It is a good idea to avoid exercise outdoors during times like rush hour, when air pollution is at its worst. Breathe London also suggests sticking to parks and quieter streets to take your exercise as air pollution levels are much lower in these areas.

If you suffer from a lung condition, exercise can be quite a daunting prospect, but it is still important to be as active as possible. Advice from British Heart Foundation will provide you with the confidence to take regular exercise.

Be Wary Of Your Commute

If you drive to your place of work and are sat in heavy traffic, make sure your windows are up and air vents are closed. This will reduce your exposure to air pollution build up. When considering other modes of transport, don't be put off cycling or walking because of high levels of pollution.

Research was carried about by the University of Cambridge that found that the benefits of exercise still outweigh the negatives of high pollution.

Surprisingly, because cyclists are constantly moving and not sitting in the 'smog', they are less at risk than motorists. Breathe London suggest using your bike for short journeys and avoid waiting directly behind lorries and other large diesel vehicles when in queuing traffic.

What Support Is Available If I Suffer From Air Pollution Related Health Issues?

One of the biggest support networks to utilise if you suffer from any cardiovascular difficulties is The British Lung Foundation. There are helplines, information for local support groups, medical professionals, and online communities ready and waiting to support you with your quality of life. 

The British Lung Foundation provides information on support groups and classes that are happening in your local area.

You can attend sessions such as:

  • Breathe Easy support groups
  • Exercise classes
  • Singing classes
  • Pulmonary fibrosis groups

It is important to reach out for help if you feel alone. Lung conditions can often make a person feel quite scared, especially as one of the main symptoms of such conditions is breathlessness.

The British Lung Foundation's 'Support for you' page has an entire directory of potential help to assist you with independent living and a good quality of life.

How Can Simpson Millar Help?

Only recently did the government make a promise to halt the selling of diesel and petrol cars from the year 2040. But Industrial disease specialists are concerned that a change so far into the future does not help those in need now. The only way to communicate to the Government a dissatisfaction at their attempts to reduce pollution is to stand up to them collectively.

If you suffer from lung disease as a result of high levels of air pollution or any other industrial disease, you can contact one of our Industrial disease team, who will be happy to advise you on where to find the best possible treatment as well as provide you with legal guidance.

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