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Air Pollution could be as harmful as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day

Posted by Brychan Williams on 12 February 2020 at 2:54 pm

Yes smoking is bad for your health but in some places the air you breathe could be as bad for you as 20 cigarettes a day.

This is according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Washington and Columbia University, where they observed over 7,000 people across North Carolina, Chicago, Winston-Salem, Baltimore, LA, St. Paul, Minnesota and New York over a period of 18 years.

The scientists found that there is an association between the long-term exposure to all major air pollutants and an increase in lung diseases such as emphysema. Emphysema is considered to be a smoker’s disease yet it turns out that exposure to air pollution may lead to the same changes in the lung that gives rise to emphysema.

The study found that the people studied who were exposed for years to higher-than-average concentrations of ground level ozone developed changes to their lungs similar to those seen in smokers.  The researchers found that the changes were roughly the same as if the person had been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years.

Emphysema is a lung condition that causes shortness of breath due to the air sacs in the lungs becoming damaged. Over time the inner walls of the air sacs (alveoli) weaken and rupture creating larger air spaces instead of many small ones.

Whilst this study was conducted in the US the same can be said of cities across the world where pollution levels are similar. For the UK, London is particularly bad and it is estimated that air pollution causes at least 40,000 early deaths in the UK from lung and heart disease annually. Whilst globally it is estimated that each year 4.2 million premature deaths around the world are linked to ambient (outdoor) air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation.

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, has planned to introduce a car free day on September 22nd closing off 20 kilometres of roads to cars in order to raise awareness about air pollution and climate change. Cycling and walking will be encouraged, but some areas such as London Bridge up to Bishopsgate will have buses running but no other vehicles.

This is certainly welcoming news, however I would like to see cars banned from all major cities across the UK and not just for one day. We should improve current transport links and clear the roads for cyclists to use. I would make exemptions for delivery vans and lorries as businesses obviously need to maintain stock levels and trade goods.

We are at the midst of a climate crisis, it’s time to put people’s health and the health of our environment first.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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