The UK’s first National Clean Air Day was on 15 June 2017. It came with some dire warnings about problems with pollution on our roads and the dangers to motorists and their passengers, as well as to children and cyclists.

According to research commissioned by the Global Action Plan (GAP) and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, drivers and their passengers are exposed to more pollution than pedestrians or cyclists. The research found that people in cars breathe in nine times as much pollution as those who are walking or cycling. However, a change of route can reduce this exposure by as much as 70%.

The report also warned parents that by driving children to school, they are increasing their exposure significantly compared to if they walked to school along the same route.

Pollution findings

The separate studies from GAP and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change both found that children are more vulnerable to the effects of pollution due to one simple factor – their height. The risk to a child is 11% higher than to the average adult due to children’s lower height, because they are nearer the source of the pollution.

The studies looked at the problem of pollution, including air conditions inside and outside vehicles. The aim was to release them for the first National Clean Air Day and to help raise awareness of the dangerous levels of air pollution being experienced in parts of the country. The reports also hope to inspire people to push for change to improve the situation.

Finding solutions

One group of those questioned said that both the government and car manufacturers needed to do more to deal with the problem. But nearly two-thirds of the same group said they were willing to pay out from their own pockets to help deal with problem, with an average of around £2.50 a month being the figure they were willing to contribute. This would equate to £1 billion a year if a corresponding number of people in the general population were willing to contribute.

These two reports are among several additional studies being released with the aim of shocking people into action around the subject and to help find solutions. One from King’s College London discovered that the amount of pollution a person inhales while travelling inside a vehicle is significantly higher than if you were cycling the same route.

Today a “Pay as you Pollute” tracking technology was again highlighted in the media as the best way to manage the rising pollution problem, charging high polluters who drive around high risk zones such as schools. However, critics see it as a stealth tax on families and low income groups, who are most likely to drive higher polluting vehicles near high risk areas.

Mistaken assumptions

A poll of 2,000 adults found that 96% incorrectly thought they were inhaling less pollution as a driver or passenger in a vehicle than when they were walking or cycling. In the same poll, 43% said they thought that closing a car window made them safe from harmful emissions, even though harmful particles from emissions can be just as damaging inside a car as outside.

Face masks are another idea that people believe in, yet which seem to have little material benefit. Air quality scientists say that they have little effect at filtering out the microscopic particles that have such a huge effect on the heart. Heart-related problems account for around 72% of the UK’s 40,000 premature deaths from outdoor pollution, including strokes. The remaining 28% are from respiratory problems.

Can you limit the risk?

As part of National Clean Air Day, motorists are being asked to study their routes and to look at them from a pollution perspective. A new app has been launched covering London, Birmingham and Glasgow, to show which areas of the city are most polluted. It helps people avoid these areas, easing the problem and reducing the health risk.

As a driver, there are other ways you can limit risk. The first thing to do is ALWAYS switch on air con to circulate air inside the cabin of the car only. This cannot stop harmful fumes coming in, but it can reduce them by 20-30%. Keep the windows shut at all times while commuting and, if possible, limit journeys by car if other means of transport can be used instead.

What do you think about these results? Are you shocked that drivers and passengers are affected more by toxic fumes than cyclists and pedestrians? Will this be a wake up call for people to act? Let us know in the comments below.

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