Air pollution has grown worse over the past few decades largely because of a growing number of cars on the road.
In towns and cities, road transport is the main form of air pollution, generating nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.
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Farming, industry and emissions from power generation can also contribute to the problem, while many households pollute indoor air through things like open fires and heaters.
Natural events – such as volcanoes and dust storms coming over from abroad – can also temporarily cause spikes in air pollution.
Why has air pollution spiked in London?
London’s air pollution warning has been sparked by a period of intense high pressure covering western Europe.
This high pressure means that air is less mobile, making it harder for the emissions produced by cars and other sources to blow away.
The government’s forecast predicts pollution levels will hit band 10, which is the highest level on the scale.
Pollution levels in the city haven’t hit this mark since March 2018.
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What are the health impacts of air pollution?
According to the European Environment Agency, both long- and short-term exposure to air pollution can lead to a range of diseases and complications.
This includes strokes, lunch cancers, and respiratory infections.
WHO has also demonstrated evidence of links between exposure to air pollution and type 2 diabetes, obesity and dementia.
It’s estimated that around seven million people globally are killed by air pollution every year, with almost all of the global population (99 per cent) breathing air that exceeds WHO guideline limits.
How can I check if my area is polluted?
Created by campaign group the Central Office of Public Interest, this interactive tool allows you to check air pollution figures at every address in the UK.
The most polluted address on the map is London’s Harley Street, between Oxford Circus and Regent’s Park, where all homes are given a ‘very high’ rating.
Homes in the HU7 4 postcode, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, is ranked bottom of the pollution scale.
What is the UK doing about air pollution?
Boris Johnson has promised a “green industrial revolution” to tackle the climate crisis and improve air quality, which includes banning wholly petrol and diesel vehicle sales by 2030.
We are going to drive forward a Green Industrial Revolution, creating hundreds of thousands of green jobs across the country.
Read more about my 10 point plan: https://t.co/ZnqoHnbzB7
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 18, 2020
But the government has been urged to be bolder in its approach, with campaigners seeking specific and legally-binding targets on improving air quality in its new Environmental Bill.
Various cities, including London, have proposed clean air zones to encourage less car use – but many of these plans have been met with controversy by those who say it disadvantages those who can’t afford to switch to less polluting vehicles.
A government spokesperson said: “Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010. But we know there is more to do, which is why we are taking urgent action to curb the impact air pollution has on communities across England through the delivery of our £3.8 billion plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 pollution.
“Through our landmark Environment Bill, we have committed to set an ambitious target on PM2.5 alongside a long-term target on air quality. The Prime Minister’s ambitious 10 Point Plan for the environment will see investment in zero-emission public transport, a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars brought forward to 2030, and the transformation of our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles.”