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Health effects of air pollution

A coronavirus legacy: better air quality for better health

11 February 2021
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4 min read

Programme Director Kate Langford shares why improving air quality to improve our health is such a fitting legacy from COVID-19.

Last summer, we gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s inquiry into air quality. Today, we are delighted to see our recommendations adopted in the Committee’s report, Air Quality and coronavirus: a glimpse of a different future or business as usual.

The Committee rightly state that there is a strong and established case for taking action to reduce health inequalities from air pollution. Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to public health, and negative health outcomes disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged communities, who often live in urban areas, and usually have done the least to pollute our air.

Our 10-year health effects of air pollution programme, aims to explore how people’s health is affected by poor air quality, and test solutions to reduce this harmful impact.

The first lockdown caused a significant reduction in air pollution, but despite movement still being heavily restricted across the UK, the improvement in air quality has not lasted. There is a risk that concerns regarding the safety of public transport will increase car usage, polluting our air further.

Better air quality means better health. And the improvements would be most dramatically felt by those who have the worst health outcomes: people living in urban areas.

Kate Langford
Kate Langford Programme Director

This is why improving air quality to improve our health is such a fitting legacy from COVID-19. Better air quality means better health. And the improvements would be most dramatically felt by those who have the worst health outcomes: people living in urban areas.

We are calling on the Government to adopt the Committee’s recommendations in full. This means we need to see more action, investment and joined up working beyond the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, from Department of Health and Social Care to Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Transport. A long term, cross-government response is crucial to addressing the health impacts of air pollution, and in ensuring that recovery from COVID-19 cannot be at the expense of the environment.

Impact on Urban Health will continue to help with this: through our health effects of air pollution programme, we are working with key players in the private sector, such as construction companies, couriers and hauliers, to understand the barriers to them taking more environmentally friendly action and collaborating to co-develop solutions. We are also working to amplify the voices of those most impacted by air pollution and ensure that policies and solutions work for them. We would be happy to share this insight with Government to support a green, healthy and just recovery from COVID-19.

This is a time for action. That action must deliver better air quality and result in better health.