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Health and air quality

Air pollution is associated with a number of adverse health impacts. Generally if you are young and in a good state of health, moderate air pollution levels are unlikely to have any serious short term effects. However, elevated levels and/or long term exposure to air pollution can lead to more serious symptoms and conditions affecting human health. This mainly affects the respiratory and inflammatory systems, but is also recognised as a contributing factor in the onset of heart disease and cancer.  

Additionally, air pollution particularly affects the most vulnerable in society: children and older people, and those with heart and lung conditions. There is also often a strong correlation with equalities issues, because areas with poor air quality are also often the less affluent areas[1],[2].  The annual health cost to society of the impacts of particulate matter alone in the UK is estimated to be around £16 billion[3].

The main air pollutants within East Suffolk are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5).

Nitrogen Dioxide is a concern because it can irritate the areas of the lungs, increasing the symptoms of those suffering from lung diseases.

There is currently concern about PM2.5 because “there is no evidence of a safe level of exposure to or a threshold below which no adverse health effects occur”1. The technical evidence shows that smaller particles are more closely associated with adverse health effects. Although there is no specific air quality objective in the National Strategy, the Government has set a target reduction value of 15% in the concentration of PM2.5 at urban sites to be achieved by the end of the period 2010 – 2020.

Although one of the main sources of PM2.5 are emissions from diesel engines there is currently a growing concern over the increase in biomass combustion, and in particular the growth in the use of wood burning stoves to provide heating. The combustion of biomass and wood could become yet another major source of particulates released into the atmosphere.

The Defra Website and the Environmental Protection UK Website both have more information about health and air pollution.

[1] Environmental equity, air quality, socioeconomic status and respiratory health, 2010
[2] Air quality and social deprivation in the UK: an environmental inequalities analysis, 2006
[3] Defra. Abatement cost guidance for valuing changes in air quality, May 2013