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EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE

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By Juliet Wheater 

It was reported back in April, that the Himalayas were visible from India , amid the government’s lockdown to fight the corona virus, allowing residents to see the towering peaks 125 miles away from Punjab for the first time in 30 years, indicating cleaner air. 

However, as life begins to get back to normal, clean air is once again, increasingly hard to come by, so what we can do to stay healthy? 

According to the Royal College of Physicians, air pollution is responsible for around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK. Air pollution is a known cause of lung cancer and is connected to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and changes in the brain linked to dementia, says Professor Stephen Holgate, RCP’s adviser on air quality. Other chronic health conditions, such as asthma, bronchial diseases and skin problems, are also triggered by exposure to pollutants. And for children, the elderly and those with existing respiratory conditions, pollution is a major concern, states Dr Nick Hopkinson, medical director at the British Lung Foundation. (Source: Woman & Home magazine). 

With pollution levels in many parts of the country regularly exceeding the World Health Organisation’s safety guidelines, it’s time for all of us to make some changes and not just temporary ones, during a pandemic. 

So what is it about air pollution that’s so toxic? 

Gases and particle pollution, known as ‘particulate matter; or PM, is the issue. This airborne material is a mix of carbon emissions from vehicles and the burning of fossil fuels, soot, windblown dust, sand and sea salt and tiny specks of rubber and metals. PM10 is large particular matter and the finer, more harmful particles are measured as PM2.5. These can penetrate deep into the lungs and potentially enter the bloodstream. Breathing this on a high pollution day has a short-term impact but it’s possible to be affected by low levels over a long period of time. 

As air pollution often can’t be seen, many people are often unaware of its dangers. There’s growing evidence linking it to more common conditions, such as: bronchitis and pneumonia. On days when air pollution levels spike, so do the number of people seeking medical attention says Dr Hopkinson. In pollution hotspots, shut the windows when indoors or driving. An air purifier will clean up the immediate air that you inhale. The most effective ones have a HEPA filter to remove PM2.5 particles but using one with a carbon filter will combat vehicle gases too. Track the pollution levels in your area, visit uk-air.defra.gov.uk or call Defra’s air pollution hotline on: 0800 55 66 77. 

Known as the ‘Big Smoke’ its little wonder that London has the highest concentration of PM in the UK. Vehicles are a significant source of nitrogen oxides, so higher concentrations of it are usually found in urban zones. However, PM levels can also be high in rural areas along busy commuter roads, especially when congested. Interestingly, ozone pollution levels are often higher in rural areas too. Warm and wind-free weather conditions, also seem to make it worse. Urban planners are now creating green zones, tree avenues and hedge walls which act as vegetarian barriers, to block the flow and speed of noxious gases from vehicles. 

Many parts of the world experienced the joys of cleaner air during the COVD-19 lockdown when human activities were restricted by the lockdown policies. Sadly, but not unexpectedly – as cities and countries begin to ease these policies, air pollution is bouncing back. According to the recent analysis, air pollution in China has already hit pre-pandemic levels around the end of April to early May, and the Philippines appears to follow suit. (Source: Greenpeace). 

Every year, around 4.5 million premature deaths are linked to air pollution from fossil fuel burning. In 2018, it has been reported that the global cost of air pollution reached US$8 billion per day, which is roughly 3.3% of the world’s GDP. And according to the WHO, 91% of the global population live in areas that exceed the WHO air quality standard.

The UK government’s Clean Air strategy aims to slash air pollution by 46% in the next 10 years and we can all do our part in our own small way. If possible, opt to either walk or cycle instead of using the car and if you do drive, choose a clean model. 

Recycling and composting food minimises emissions and make sure that your home is well insulated and as the nights begin to draw in, wear a jumper rather than turn up the heating. 

THE CRYSTAL CRAZE
 

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Sunday, 25 October 2020