How is Asthma UK tackling air pollution?

Air pollution can have a serious effect on the lives of people with asthma. We have been working hard to tackle this problem by talking to government and funding research.

05 May 2017

Working together to tackle air pollution

Air pollution is a serious public health problem. Researchers have linked the pollutants nitrogen oxide and particle matter to asthma attacks, heart disease and dementia. In 2016, the Royal College of Physicians found that pollution contributes to around 40,000 deaths a year. This year, research by the World Health Organisation found that it contributed to the deaths of an estimated 600,000 children worldwide. This research and months of news stories have focused public attention on the health effects of pollution.

Amid the news stories and debate, it is important to remember that people with asthma are directly affected by pollution every day. We know from past surveys we have done of people with asthma that around a third of people are put off exercising outside by traffic fumes while nearly half are reluctant to go shopping or even walk around congested areas. Air pollution can have profound effect on people’s lives, stopping them from doing things others take for granted.

Asthma UK is working to help those affected by air pollution. We have advised government on using air pollution alerts and pollution data more effectively. Alongside this, we are partnering with other organisations to persuade the UK Government to take a tougher stance on air pollution. We are also funding research so that we can better understand the link between air pollution and asthma.

Using air pollution data effectively

In February, Asthma UK and other charities met with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to discuss how they could improve their air pollution alert system – which is used to monitor air pollution levels and warn people when the air quality becomes very poor.

The Asthma UK team looks out for these alerts and shares them on social media. We shared what we have learnt with Defra and set out how they could use Facebook and Twitter more effectively, to warn people of spikes in air pollution. We also talked about making alerts more targeted so that people could be updated on pollution in their local area. We are hopeful that Defra will use this feedback to help improve their system in the future.

If you would like regular updates about air pollution levels Defra provides updates via email and by phone.

Lobbying government

Asthma UK is a member of the Healthy Air Campaign; a group of charities who are working together to persuade government to do more on air pollution. We campaign in a coalition because air pollution is too big and complex a problem for us to tackle on our own. There are many sources of pollution such as road transport, industry and household boilers. No one government department or agency is responsible for making our air healthy. For example, Defra are responsible for reducing pollution but the Department for Transport and local councils oversee roads and town centres. The result is confusion and inaction.

On 5 May 2017, the government released its air new air pollution framework after losing a series legal battles, against our Healthy Air Campaign partner Client Earth. Asthma UK and the Healthy Air Campaign will be commenting on the plans so that the needs of people with asthma are considered. You will be able to read our reply on our consultation response page. We will work to make this to be the first of many government actions on air pollution.

Funding research 

Researchers agree that air pollution makes asthma worse but, beyond that, we still know relatively little about the link between air pollution and asthma. For example, we still do not understand why some people are more affected than others. In addition, there is evidence that suggests being exposed to high levels of air pollution as a child is linked to developing asthma, but researchers are not sure yet. Asthma UK is already funding research in this area, but we are calling for more funding so that we can answer this vital question as soon as possible.