UN says UK Government Failing to Control Air Pollution
The UN has accused the UK government of flouting its duty towards protecting its citizens from high levels of air pollution. Baskut Tuncak, a UN expert on human rights and toxic waste, was invited to visit the UK in January 2017 by the government so he could conduct a fact-finding mission. The report, which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September, describes air pollution in the UK as a “plague” which is affecting the country.
The scale of the problem
Figures from the UK Environmental Audit Committee suggest that there are 40,000 premature deaths across the UK every year as a result of high levels of air pollution, with 9,000 of these deaths occurring in London, where air pollution levels are at their highest.
Some areas of London, such as Brixton Road, Putney High Street and the Strand, breached their nominal annual air pollution limits within the first few days of 2017. Although London is a hotspot for air pollution, other cities in the UK are also affected, with high levels of air pollution being reported in places such as Leeds, Bournemouth, Ipswich and Birmingham.
The criticism from the UN will prove embarrassing for the government. The government’s plans for tackling air pollution have twice been ruled illegal by the courts, as they do not offer the level of protection required by law. The latest government plan, which was released in July, has been condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city councils.
Because the government is failing to meet its own air pollution reduction targets, many pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particles found in traffic fumes, are placing people across the UK at risk and potentially damaging their health.
Air pollution and asthma
The report’s findings are bad news for those who are vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. such as children, the elderly, and people with medical conditions such as asthma. There is a strong body of evidence which suggests a link between the development and worsening of asthma, and the level of air pollution.
Whenever high levels of air pollution occur, the number of visits to the doctor and the number of emergency admissions to hospital for asthma-related distress peak, with children and adults with asthma at greater risk of a life-threatening attack. Pollution can also sensitise people with asthma to other triggers, such as pollen, dust, and pet hair.
Air pollution has a greater impact on children and young people because they breathe at a faster rate when compared to older people, and their lungs are still developing.
Signs that air pollution is affecting your asthma
When the level of pollution in the air becomes very high, you may notice some of the following symptoms:
- You feel more sensitive to other things which can trigger your asthma
- You begin to wheeze or cough more often
- Your chest feels tight
- You experience a scratchy feeling in your nose and throat
- You need to use your inhaler more often
If you experience these symptoms, you may wish to visit your GP for an assessment. If you begin to feel very unwell and are struggling to breathe, you should contact the emergency services immediately.
Steps you can take to protect yourself from the effects of air pollution
While the causes of air pollution are generally things which are outside your control, there are some steps you can take which will help you to protect yourself from overexposure to polluted air.
- Check the air quality forecast
- Always have your inhaler to hand when you leave the house
- Do not spend too much time outside when air pollution levels are high
- Try to travel outside of the rush hour when there is a lot of traffic on the road
- If you must walk through a city, you should avoid major roads and stick to the backstreets
- Do not take part in any physical activities when pollution levels are high
- When travelling by car, keep the windows closed
The Online Clinic offers a range of asthma treatments which can help you to control and manage the illness on days when air pollution levels are high.