Confirmed: Air pollution impacts every organ in the body

For the first time, the weight of scientific evidence has come together to confirm that air pollution can impact every organ in the body.

The relationship between air pollution and our health has been studied for decades, but this is the first year Global Action Plan’s review of the evidence base, which is approved by a number of expert bodies, has been able to confirm that air pollution can have health impacts on every major organ in the body, can shorten our lives, contribute towards chronic illness and put us more at risk from Covid-19.

When we breathe polluted air, it can inflame the lining of our lungs, moving into our bloodstream ending up in the heart and brain, causing lung disease, heart disease, dementia, strokes, and cancer.

Despite this, when asked most Brits are not aware of the broad health impacts caused by air pollution.

While nearly half of people think air pollution is connected to worsening of asthma symptoms and the development of asthma, and 44% can also rightly connect it to poor lung function development, 42% to bronchitis and 35% to lung cancer, only 12% of Brits associate it with strokes, while only 10% make the connection between air pollution and dementia.

In line with the evidence and this year’s Clean Air Day theme ‘Air pollution dirties every organ in your body. Take steps to improve your health and the planet this Clean Air Day’, Global Action Plan is promoting the primary action of walking for shorter journeys, for those who can.

A quarter of journeys in England are under one mile, so for those who are able, swapping the car to walk can make a difference.

The key actions for Clean Air Day 2022 include:

  • Talking to someone about the harms of air pollution.
  • Walking those short distance trips and leaving the car at home, where you can.
  • Asking local and national decision makers to make it easier to walk more and have clean air in your community.

Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan said: ‘Air pollution puts the health of our whole body at risk, it is beyond just a lung health issue. With a growing evidence base, we are able to talk even more clearly about the health harms that air pollution causes for everyone, not just those who are vulnerable. But we want the public to know that there is hope – simple actions do have a positive impact on our health and our communities.

‘By asking those who can, to ditch the car for short journeys this Clean Air Day, we hope to inspire and normalise walking and cycling for short trips. Not only will walking reduce your air pollution footprint and exposure, it is also the healthiest and cheapest way to get around. But it’s not always easy, so we also want people to ask local decision makers to make it easier for them to walk more and have cleaner air in their community.’

Dr Karen Exley, UK Health Security Agency added: ‘Air pollution damages our health in a number of different ways and even shortens our life expectancy. Our understanding of the effects of pollution is increasing all the time and improving the quality of the air we breathe in could prevent thousands of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases over the next two decades. We must all make it a priority to reduce air pollution. Every one of us has a shared responsibility to take action and campaigns like Clean Air Day demonstrate how every action has a positive impact.’


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