Air Pollution by Tina

Air quality was the main reason Daisy chose not to live in Wanstead. She was concerned about the effects of pollutants on the lungs of her unborn child. 

This was not unreasonable, after all there is nothing a parent would not do for their child. She checked Government sanctioned London Air Quality maps and made the decision based on the likelihood her child would not grow up with one of any number of respiratory disorders associated with air pollution.

There are millions of parents who are not as lucky as Daisy. For these parents, their sacrifices for their children and grandchildren are hindered by the increase in the burning of fossil fuels caused by the current uncontrolled hunger of economic growth.

It can be said, and rightly so, air pollution has decreased in the UK at a steady rate since the coal burning carefree days of the industrial revolution, but a closer look reveals, as a nation, we have exported ours to manufacturing countries such as China and India and mining regions like central and southern Africa.

Regardless of where it is created, what goes around, keeps on going around.

Exposure to carbon monoxide (one of the gasses released by the turning of the key in any normal functioning combustion engine) can cause headache, dizziness, and nausea; moderate prolonged exposure is also linked to heart disease.  

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), another gas created during the process of burning fossil fuels, causes inflammation in the lining of the lungs, and reduced immunity to lung infections, leading to wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis. Higher levels can increase asthma attacks in children anPolld causes a higher risk of heart complications in older people.

Levels of these two pollutants have reduced significantly, as much as 55% due to the current lock down according to research from King’s College London.

The study also found levels of PM10 and PM2.5 were higher after lockdown than at any other time in 2020. PM10 and PM2.5 refer to particles 10 micrometres or less in diameter and 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter.

Particle pollution commonly referred to as particle matter or PM is a general term for a mixture of solid and liquid droplets suspended in the air. Microplastics, trace metals and industrial by-products such as carbon, sulphur, and other mineral components fall comfortably in this category many of them carcinogenic. Long term exposure is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illness.

A report released way back in 2005 by the Air Quality Expert Group for the then Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs put the likely figures at 6,500 deaths and 6,400 hospital admissions in 2002. 

Since this paper was released there have been efforts by the UK government to improve air quality. Most notably the introduction of an Ultra Low Emission Zone in London to reduce the number of vehicles in central London and encourage the use of public transport.

These tentative steps however are nowhere near the radical alterations needed to for a brighter cleaner future. Major polluters such as the air travel industry stubbornly refuse to change with the times and with no one holding them accountable, why should they?

According to the World Health Organization estimates 7 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution, 100,000 in the UK. An estimated 3,799 deaths in London alone, a rate higher than car accident fatalities. 

It’s left up to us. We can change our behaviour. Reduce our consumption. We can eat less meat, more local, and more organic. We can drive electric cars. We can take fewer flights. We can make our phones and laptops last longer. We can be more than consumers.

We can join groups like ‘Friends of The Earth’ and ‘Extinction Rebellion’ to hold our government to account.

What we cannot do is deny the future children of planet Earth, Daisy’s children, your children, the right to a fresh breath of air.    

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