A new research report shows air pollution can damage health ‘before birth through to old age’.
The report was commissioned by the Greater London Authority through Imperial Projects and carried out by researchers from Imperial College London’s Environmental Research Group who analysed the findings of a range of key studies.
Their review focused on the “serious and life-limiting risks of air pollution and how it affects multiple aspects of physical and mental health over the course of pregnancy and birth, child development, through to adulthood”.
The team examined studies focused on the links between air pollution and ill health, including pollutants such as black carbon (or soot), particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and sulphur dioxide (SO2).
One of the key findings indicates that air pollution impacts fertility by lowering sperm count and motility and can impair normal foetal development in the womb, increasing the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and premature births.
The review highlights that children living in London are particularly at risk of developing lifelong chronic conditions, including poorly developed lungs, asthma, high blood pressure, inattention and hyperactivity, and mental illness.
In addition, evidence indicates that exposure to air pollution can negatively impact health well into old age, increasing the risk of stroke, dementia, cancer, multiple longer-term illnesses including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and early death.
Dr Gary Fuller, senior lecturer in air quality measurement from Imperial’s Environmental Research Group and the report’s lead author, said: “There is increasing evidence that impacts of air pollution are hiding in plain sight in the burden of chronic illness that affects so many people.”
“These air pollution impacts affect our quality of life and have a large cost to society through additional health and social care costs, as well as our ability to learn, work and contribute to society.”
“The latest evidence, reflected in the new WHO guidelines, tell us that current levels of air pollution will be affecting everyone in London, including those living in the least-polluted suburbs, and especially those with pre-existing vulnerabilities.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “This review from experts at Imperial College London is a startling reminder that toxic air is a matter of life and death and that everyone – from our very youngest to our most elderly – is at risk of developing serious, lifelong health complications.
“We know that air pollution is damaging the health of Londoners in every single borough of London. That’s why there really is no time to waste in introducing measures like the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to ensure that we protect the health of Londoners and build a safer, greener city for everyone.”
Outdoor air quality affects indoor air quality, with the latter being an issue that campaigners have been asking the government to tackle as a priority in its air quality agenda.
Syntegra’s Director of Air Quality, Mark Chapman, said: “Those of us operating in the is field have long appreciated the serious impact poor air quality can have on health and wellbeing.
“This review has brought into sharp focus just how serious and long term those negative effects can be.”
“Before we can even start to reap the benefits of a healthier society, significant work needs to be done by Central and Local Governments to stem the spiralling economic and social cost of the impacts of poor air quality.”