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How Asthma UK is tackling air pollution

On Clean Air Day, here are two ways you can help us tackle air pollution for people with asthma.
Judy Abel, Senior Policy Officer, explains.

Why is air pollution so bad for people with asthma?

Air pollution is a concern for most people, but for those with asthma it can be a real worry. Just under two thirds of people with asthma – an estimated 3.3 million people in the UK – are affected by air pollution, which puts them at risk of having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

Toxic air is contributing to hospitalisations and even premature deaths. A recent study found that 10% of all children with asthma going into hospital in London were admitted because of problems linked to air pollution. Another recent report estimated that between 28,000 and 36,000 people in the UK die prematurely each year as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution, primarily people with respiratory and heart conditions.

The tragic death of Ella Kissi-Debrah has shone a light on how deadly air pollution can be. The nine-year-old, who lived near a major road in London, had a fatal asthma attack in 2013. Professor Stephen Holgate, a leading respiratory expert who wrote a report for the inquest, said on record: “There is a real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution Ella would not have died.”

It is tragic and completely unacceptable that filthy air is causing people to die.

Until recently it was thought that air pollution could only trigger asthma, but now experts realise it can cause it too. Research part-funded by Asthma UK, thanks to the generous donations of our supporters, has found that air pollution can cause stunted lung development in children, making them more prone to respiratory problems such as asthma. Some research even shows that if expectant mothers are exposed to high levels of air pollution, their children are more likely to get asthma.

Why has air pollution got worse?

There are many more vehicles on our roads now, including diesel vehicles which produce exhaust emissions that are really harmful for human health, in particular nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulates (known as PM2.5). Both these pollutants are known to exacerbate asthma, with the potential to trigger asthma attacks.

The sale of diesel vehicles is, thankfully, now falling due to bad publicity about their toxic emissions. The Mayor of London’s new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is also designed to get older, more polluting vehicles off our roads and other councils around the country are developing plans to tackle air pollution, but there is still more to do.

What is Asthma UK doing to tackle air pollution?

  • Asthma UK is working closely with other health charities and organisations such as The British Lung Foundation (BLF), the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Royal College of Physicians, to influence government to tackle harmful air pollution.
  • Today, on Clean Air Day (Thursday 20 June 2019) we are sending a joint parliamentary briefing to all MPs asking them to adopt legally-binding air quality standards across the UK in the upcoming Environment Bill, to protect the health of the public. We will be encouraging MPs to ask questions in parliament about air quality and health and to tweet their support for our campaign!
  • We are also writing to ministers in key government departments such as the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Transport, to make sure air pollution is tackled in a co-ordinated way through: reducing polluting vehicles on our roads, improving public transport and encouraging people to walk and cycle to work / school on safer roads.

How can you help to tackle air pollution?

1. Write to your local MP (you can find their contact details here) telling them about how air pollution affects your asthma and asking them to raise the issue in parliament.

2. Share your personal story of how air pollution has affected your asthma by emailing Asthma UK’s policy team at: policy@asthma.org.uk

If you are worried about how air pollution is affecting your asthma, please visit our dedicated Asthma UK webpage with top tips for managing your asthma on high pollution days. You can also call Asthma UK’s Helpline on 0300 222 5800 for independent, confidential advice from our asthma nurses.