Clean Air Day - our tips for breathing cleaner air.
The effects of air pollution
Across Europe, 800,000 people a year are killed by pollution; in cities in England, seven out of every 100 deaths are attributed to it. Dirty air harms pregnancies, affects children's lung development, causes heart and lung disease and is linked with causing mental health issues and dementia. Although pollution has fallen in recent years across the UK, London regularly breaks international air quality standards.
The most dangerous type of pollution is called particulate matter (PM2.5). It is invisible and made up of sulfates, ammonia, black carbon and water. The two leading causes are from cars and charcoal, but it is also in cleaning products, furniture and a range of day to day activities like cooking or using heaters at home.
Sometimes you can see the pollution in London.
What can you do to reduce your exposure to pollution?
When you're outside your home:
- Walk on roads with less busy traffic: use a clean air route tracker - this can help you find a less polluted, quieter street. You can check the annual pollution maps of London here to find out more about your local area, or check the daily forecast here.
- Avoid or spend less time in dirty air hotspots. These are roads with stationary traffic or taxi ranks where cars constantly have their engines idling. The pollution builds up and is often held in place by tall buildings either side.
When you cross a road, push the button and then step back from the edge of the road - pollution build up is worse the closer to the road you are.
If you are walking up a hill, walk on the side where cars are driving downhill as pollution is worse on the side where engines work harder to move the car uphill.
If you are cycling and want to wear a mask, remember to look for a mask graded N99 otherwise it will not filter out pollutants. Cyclists should try to avoid using main roads with heavy traffic.
If your face busy roads, keep them closed at rush hour to avoid pollution coming into the building.
Plants filter out pollutants in the air: ivy, spider plants, peace lilies, aloe vera and chrysanthemums are all effective at reducing air pollution.
If you can, reduce the amount of time you spend on the London Underground: the tube also has dirty air from small shards of rust and asbestos that the trains pull from the tunnels into the air on the platforms.
Mother in law's tongue, or snake plant, is good at removing pollutants.
At your home:
- Wood burning stoves produce harmful PM2.5 particles, it's safest not to use them.
- Open windows and use extractor fans after using cleaning products or cooking to help disperse the pollution (though not at rush hour if you live near a road!)
- Using indoor plants to help remove pollutants and oxygenate your home.
- If you live in a very polluted area and have respiratory issues, consider buying a fan that filters harmful pollutants.
- Avoid MDF or plywood furniture as they are a source of pollutants in the home.
- Use frangrance free cleaning products.
- Choose paints and varnishes that are labelled: low volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Air quality is getting much better across London and the UK, following some of these steps will help reduce your exposure to pollution and improve your health and wellbeing.