Pollution related illnesses kill 7 million people each year. That's more people than car accidents, more people than suicides, more people than in wars, and more people than all of those things together.
40,000 people in the UK die early each year as a result of dirty air. Unlike climate change, pollution is the subject of much less debate and isn't often countered with pseudo-science and weird conspiracy, perhaps because the evidence is immediate. You can see the smog, you can feel the thickness of the air, you can smell – breathe – its toxicity.
Air pollution is linked to lung cancer, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. Many places, up and down the country, regularly exceed safe and legal limits for air pollution. In less than 5 days, some parts of London exceeded the safe yearly limit.
By law, hourly levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide must not be more than 200 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) more than 18 times in a whole year, but late on Thursday this limit was broken on Brixton Road in Lambeth.
How depressing is it that Londoners now need an app to 'find fresh air'?
Some time in December I purchased a Clean Air Kit from Friends of The Earth. It contained a tiny plastic tube that you tie-wrapped to a post, some instructions and a return envelope. I wrapped it to the drainpipe outside my home and forgot about it for a fortnight.
Oxfordshire is a pretty spacious, green county. That's changing, as the London commuter belt ever-widens (and you begin to wonder when it might reach critical mass but that's another story) but for now, Oxfordshires' flat, open landscapes are something to be admired.
The Clean Air Kit measures the level of nitrogen dioxide in the ambient (outdoor) air. My results came through in an email late one evening last week:
The result was 17.9952 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre) of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).
The European Union has set the legal limit for NO2 pollution at an annual mean of 40µg/m3. Which means that during the time your air monitoring tube was up, NO2 pollution levels were below the level at which the annual legal limit is set.
Attached was a link to a UK map and, on the whole, my levels were comparable to others in my area - 22.2, 25, 18, 13.
Mine wasn't too bad. But it's bad enough.
The air you breathe is killing you.