New Research Shows Air Pollution Causes Harm at Every Age
Apr 26 2023
New research has revealed the detrimental effects of air pollution on individuals throughout their lives, from prenatal development to old age. The study, which analyzed data from over 35,000 studies conducted within the past ten years, was led by experts at the Environmental Research Group of Imperial College London. The research emphasizes the particularly dangerous impacts of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), both of which originate from vehicle emissions.
There is no known level of PM2.5 exposure that is harmless, which means that even people residing in the least polluted areas of London are still affected. The researchers point out that the focus on premature deaths due to air pollution often overshadows the broader consequences. Air pollution adds to the chronic disease burden, reducing quality of life and resulting in significant financial strain due to increased healthcare and social care costs. Additionally, air pollution hinders our capacity to learn, work, and participate in society.
Air pollution has been linked to negative effects on fetal development during pregnancy, such as low birth weight and miscarriages, as well as reduced sperm count in men. In children, it can hinder lung development, provoke asthma, and impact blood pressure, cognitive abilities, and mental health. In adults, air pollution raises the risk of premature death from various chronic illnesses, cancer, and strokes.
Among the most notable discoveries in this research is the impact of air pollution on brain health, encompassing mental health, dementia, and early-life effects that could contribute to future health problems in the population. These findings represent significant, yet currently unquantified, societal and economic costs.
In a historic 2020 case, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah became the first individual in the UK to have air pollution recognized as a cause of death. She died in 2013, at the age of nine, after an asthma attack induced by inhaling traffic emissions.
Public Health England estimates that up to 43,000 people in the UK die annually due to air pollution, and that it could cost the country as much as £18.6 billion by 2035 without appropriate action. The authors of this research recommend focusing on policies to reduce the cumulative harm from air pollution and the associated health deterioration, in addition to safeguarding those most vulnerable to current pollution levels.
The Greater London Authority commissioned the study, which drew heavily from findings by the World Health Organisation, the UK Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, the Royal College of Physicians, the Health Effects Institute, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
In summary, this pioneering research highlights the pressing need for policies and initiatives to tackle air pollution, which affects individuals at all stages of life. The extensive health and wellbeing consequences of air pollution must not be underestimated, as they have far-reaching implications for society, the economy, and the environment. It is vital to prioritize mitigating the harmful impacts of air pollution and safeguarding the most susceptible among us.
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