The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said around 40,000 deaths can be attributed to outdoor air pollution, while even more deaths are related to high levels of hazardous air pollutants in homes and workplaces.
In the colleges’ report, ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’, it says that Government and World Health Organisation ‘acceptable’ limits on certain air pollutants are not enough as ‘no level of exposure’ can be seen to be safe.
They outlined how air pollution is not only dangerous for people with long-term conditions, increasing their risk of strokes and heart attacks, but also has lifelong impacts – impairing fetal development of lungs and kidneys.
There is now also strong evidence that air pollution is associated with new-onset asthma in children and adults.
The report called for tougher regulations on polluting industries, including emissions testing for cars, and for local authorities to have powers to close or divert road traffic, particularly near schools.
It also highlighted the ‘often overlooked’ dangers of indoor air pollution, including kitchen products, faulty boilers, open fires, and air fresheners – and called for more research to ‘strengthen our understanding of the key risk factors and effects of poor air quality in our homes, schools and workplaces’ and for coordinated action to ‘develop and apply any necessary policy changes’.
The colleges also appealed to the public to cut their polluting activities and limit their exposure, for example by avoiding car travel and keeping gas appliances and solid fuel burners in good condition.
Professor Stephen Holgate, chair of the working party that produced the report, said: ‘When our patients are exposed to such a clear and avoidable cause of death, illness and disability, it our duty to speak out.’
Dr Andrew Goddard, the RCP’s lead for the report, said: ‘Taking action to tackle air pollution in the UK will reduce the pain and suffering for many people with long term chronic health conditions, not to mention lessening the long term demands on our NHS. This is not just a job for government, local authorities or business – as individuals we can all do our part to reduce pollutant exposure.’