A breath of fresh air


by Professor Rosie McEachan and Rukhsana Rashid

It’s clean air day today (Thursday 8th October 2020). This is a chance for us all to think about what little and big things we can do in our everyday lives to reduce pollution and improve the air that we breathe.

Did you know that pollution is one of the biggest threats to health globally? In the UK the figures are sobering: 64,000 deaths every year can be directly linked to poor air quality [1]. It has been linked to lung and heart disease in children and adults, and low birth weight in babies.  Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.

If you live in a busy urban area, with lots of roads and traffic, chances are that you are exposed to high levels of pollution. You are not alone. Many areas within the UK have ‘illegal’ levels of pollution which breach current EU guidelines for ‘safe’ levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (We say ‘safe’ with a pinch of salt really, any pollution is bad and our Born in Bradford research has shown that pollution can have a bad impact on health even below ‘legal’ levels) [2]. Families living in more deprived urban areas are much more likely to be exposed to pollution, and as more deprived families are at greater risk of a poor health generally, it means health inequalities are increased.Scientists have found that air quality in cities improved dramatically during the COVID-19 lock-down period [3], which for some meant that for the first time they were breathing clean air. But as people adapt to the new normal, traffic levels are rising again, pollution will continue to be a problem for many areas.

Bradford is one of the areas in the UK that has been identified as having ‘illegal’ levels of pollution. They have been ordered by the Government to develop a plan for a ‘clean air zone’ in many parts of the city to reduce levels of pollution as quickly as possible.  After consultations with businesses and communities, Bradford Council has developed plans for a clean air zone which you can read more about here.

Born in Bradford have been awarded funding from the National Institute for Health Research to find out whether Bradford’s ‘clean air zone’ will improve health using health data from over 12,500 families enrolled in our study. Read more about our BiB Breathes project here.

Pollution can sometimes be a hidden issue. It is often invisible so something that we may not notice in our daily lives. Clean Air Day is a chance for us all to reflect on how our actions impact on pollution in our local area and what changes we can make. It is important that we try and make these changes long lasting. In this way we can protect the health of our families and make our cities healthier less polluted places to live.


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