UK and EU air pollution limits are double those that are stipulated by the World Health Organization (WHO). This raises concerns as recent studies uncover the links between ultra-fine particles in the air and health problems such as cancer, lung and heart disease, and even detrimental effects on fetal and infant development. People are calling for stricter limits on air pollution, especially in cities such as London.
UK Air Pollution Limit 2.5 Times Greater Than Recommended By WHO
The WHO recommends that a limit of 10 micrograms of ultra-fine particles per cubic meter is the maximum level that should be considered safe. The US has a slightly raised standard of 12 micrograms. Shockingly, the EU and the UK have a limit of more than double this, at 25 micrograms per cubic meter. The UK’s failure to meet WHO standards has spurred on new concerns as air pollution becomes respected as a major danger to health.
New Studies Uncover The Link Between Air Pollution And Health
Emerging studies are contributing more evidence to support concerns that air pollution is, in fact, a major underlying contributor to numerous diseases and illnesses. The latest studies have even revealed that adverse health effects can be caused by levels of pollution lower than those recommended by WHO levels. Given that UK levels are 2.5 times that of the WHO, this raises major concern over the potential detrimental impact the air quality is having on UK residents.
Air pollution is currently ranked within the world’s top 10 major risk factors for attributable death, estimated to reduce the life expectancy of Europeans by around a year on average. Even though the air may appear clean in Europe, especially when it’s compared to the air in heavily polluted nations such as India, this does not mean that it is really clean. Ultra-fine particles can travel significant distances, and they are not always visible nor can you always smell them.
Experts have warned that babies and children are at particular risk, with air pollution being proven to have the effect of impairing immune-system development and cognitive development. In 2016, the WHO estimated that as many as half a million deaths of children under five were due to respiratory tract infections that were at least partially caused by air pollution.
Earlier, in 2013, air pollution was confirmed to be a cause of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conducted research that determined that the tiny particles contributing to air pollution, specifically those known as PM10 and PM2.5, are related to lung cancer. The reason that PM2.5 has become a focus of concern is that they are particularly small and readily enter the human body where they impact the lungs and blood vessels surrounding the heart.
What’s more, these tiny particles have been linked with heart disease, and have been found to increase the likeliness of a heart attack in those already at risk, such as the elderly, or those with atherosclerosis. Research has also uncovered that other health concerns are also triggered by air pollution. For example, a recent study has proven that the ultra-fine particles that contribute to pollution can reactivate the herpes virus.
Air Pollution In London Is Falling, But Still Remains At Threatening Levels
While air pollution in London has fallen over the last year, levels still remain dangerously high, and experts and activists warn that these lower levels are nowhere near where they need to be in order to protect the population. For example, in 2017 London exceeded its annual pollution limits within the first five days, and 2018 saw this happen in one month. In 2019, the most recent statistics say that this did not happen during the first few months of the year, showing air pollution levels decreasing. However, pollution levels still remain far above those that are recommended by the WHO.
A Drastic Change is Needed
Everyone has the right to breathe clean air. The UK government is under pressure to initiate strategies to drastically bring down air pollution levels to protect residents from the proven harmful impact of pollution on health. Given that the major cause of PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere is fuel combustion, such as that from cars and other vehicles, this may be a good place to start to tackle air pollution.