Representative image of air pollution in Delhi. Photo: PTI/File
New Delhi: Researchers from Imperial College London have found that air pollution affects all stages of a person’s life, based on an analysis of over 35,000 studies conducted over the last 10 years.
The authors of the report sought to underline that the “wider impacts” of air pollution do not get as much attention as they require in comparison to premature deaths. “While headline figures on the health impact of air pollution focus on the equivalent number of premature deaths, the wider impacts are hiding in plain sight in the contribution of air pollution to the burden of chronic diseases,” BBC quoted authors of the report as saying.
Commissioned by the Greater London Authority, the study has found that exposure to certain particles could lead to miscarriages, cause low sperm count, and stunt children’s lung growth. Later in adulthood, it could also cause chronic illnesses like cancer and strokes, the report said.
The findings of the study have great relevance to India, where air pollution has consistently been among the worst in the world. A report that was published earlier this year said that India had on average the eighth most polluted air, while a dozen cities in the country were among the 15 most polluted cities on the globe.
The report of the Imperial’s Environmental Research Group looked at the evidence from over 35,000 studies, including those brought out by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UK Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP), the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), the Health Effects Institute, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), among others.
The review study noted that air pollution affects foetal development during pregnancy, resulting in low birth weight and miscarriages. In the case of men, it could lower their sperm count.
Researchers described particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which are emitted by automobiles, as “particularly harmful”.
“There was no evidence to identify a threshold where PM2.5 did no harm, and even those living in the least polluted suburbs of London were affected,” the BBC report said authors as saying.
According to Public Health England’s 2018 estimates, up to 43,000 people die in the UK every year due to air pollution and could cost the country GBP 18.6 billion by 2035 if no action is taken.
“Policies should be aimed at reducing the accumulating harm from air pollution and the health degradation, in addition to protecting people who have become vulnerable to current pollution concentrations,” the authors noted.
The findings of the study come at a time when there is a controversy in London over its mayor’s decision to expand the city’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). As of now, the Zone only covers the North and South Circular roads in London, but mayor Sadiq Khan intends to expand it to the whole of the UK’s capital. Those who drive in the said zone in a non-compliant vehicle will need to pay a daily charge of GBP 12.50.
Some of the local councils, led by the Conservative party, have launched legal action against Khan’s plans. Although the mayor says the expansion of ULEZ is a must for bringing down pollution levels, there has been resistance from some. While the latest study is a shot in the arm for the London civic body, opponents of ULEZ expansion think, it is being introduced too quickly without mitigation efforts in place.
The decision to expand ULEZ comes after the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah from Lewisham in south-east London, who was the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death in the UK. An investigating official into Debrah’s death noted that said she had been exposed to excessive levels of pollution before she died.