Air Pollution

The Problem with Air Pollution

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John Wilton-Davies

The Problem with Air Pollution  



Difficulty researching solutions

Air management



Here at Plain Air we spend a large part of our working week explaining the risks of air pollution to businesses, households and drivers, and offering solutions and practical advice on how to mitigate the damage it causes to our health.

The science part is relatively straight-forward.  For decades, scientists have been aware that particulates and polluting gases in the air are bad for us and a constant trickle of research papers examining the health effects has, in the last couple of years, become a torrent.  Rarely a day goes by without a major news publication giving us a new example of just how bad dirty air is for our short-term and long-term health.  Unlike with climate change, there is no established body of ‘doubters’ arguing that it’s “fake news” or that a bit of smog is actually good for us.

Fundamentally, we all know that that air pollution is a bad thing.  So why then are we all doing so little about it?  I don’t mean why aren’t we lobbying the Government, considering an electric car, or trying to buy green electricity, as many of us are. I mean why aren’t we doing something now – right now – to actually protect ourselves and our families from the dangers.  After all, we know that the majority of us live in areas of illegally high pollution, we know that, in towns and cities,our children’s schools are often next to busy roads where pollution is highest,and we know that, with a bit of thought, there’s probably something we can do about it.  But generally, and slightly surprisingly, almost everyone is doing absolutely nothing.

There are several reasons for this.  Firstly, air pollution is, unhelpfully,usually invisible.  If you’re walking through the countryside on a quiet summer’s afternoon in the sunshine, it’shard to believe that air pollution might be a danger.  It’s much easier to believe that it’s an issue when walking along the pavement next to a queue of traffic where you can see the fumes coming out of every exhaust pipe, but even then it doesn’t generally stop us from walking there.  If you could see the pollution around you you’d probably be much more likely to try to avoid it.

Secondly, we’ve all lived with air pollution all our lives.  Like smokers there can be a mentality of “well it hasn’t killed me so far...”.  Maybe not, but it has almost certainly made you less healthy and reduced your life expectancy.  In fact pollution in the UK is generally far better than it was 40 or 50 years ago – back in the good old days of leaded petrol, stubble burning and coal-powered power stations – but matching the improvement in air quality has been an increased understanding of just how bad it is for us.

Understandably, if pollution is invisible and has always been there, it’s easy to push it to the back of your mind as ‘just one of those things’. Even those of us involved in all things pollution every day need reminding of the risks from time to time.

Thirdly, it’s hard for the layperson to know what he or she can do to improve their air in practical ways.  What most people don’t realise is that there are products out there that will do a good, cost-effective job of reducing air pollution around them.  But finding a solution can lead to a whole pile of other complications.

The world of air purifiers is a strange one.  It is largely unregulated, meaning that manufacturers and sales outlets can and do say pretty much anything they like to encourage you to part with your money. Only a small proportion actually achieve what is claimed and, even amongst those, the value for money varies considerably.  Also the science behind purification isn’t widely understood leading, for example, to online review sites basing product reviews on the sales literature of the product rather than a proper assessment.

A quality purifier will do a good job of cleaning the air of particles that pass through its filters, improving the air quality.  Air quality is a known health factor and so, through regular use, you’d expect your health to improve.  However, in the UK, a rare piece of relevant legislation says that only medical products can make medical claims, and purifiers aren’t classed as medical products, so you’re left to make the connection yourself.

And even the best, most expensive purifier will be virtually useless unless you also understand how to use it properly.  Any purifier will only have a noticeable effect when used in an enclosed space, where the purifier is of an appropriate size for the space, and where the airflow is managed between the space and outside.  Inside and outside pollution differs and carbon dioxide and humidity from respiration indoors needs to escape.  Letting bad air out without letting too much bad air in needs practice and a little bit of education, with the exact process being dependent upon factors such as location, time of day,internal heating, etc.

This partly explains why the market for purifiers isn’t much greater.  A lack of understanding by reviewers, an inability to make health claims, wildly exaggerated product features and a lack of independent advice has helped the concerned public forget about the invisible dangers.

Reducing personal exposure to air pollution effectively over the long-term takes some effort. You need to understand where it’s worst, whether you can avoid it(alternative routes) or reduce it (quality purifiers in any enclosed space),how to manage air flow in the home, office and car, and, perhaps above all, to be continually reminded about it.

At Plain Air we see the reminding as an essential element of our role.  Whether through newsletters, blogs, information on our site, email alerts, or with a pollution monitor in your home or office, a little time spent remembering everything you already know about pollution can be a step toward a healthier life.  We offer bespoke air management plans in conjunction with independent advice on product based solutions.

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