Health effects of air pollution

Our approach to tackling air pollution in inner cities

We see an opportunity to show progress is possible when it comes to the health effects of air pollution.

We think we will have the greatest impact by both protecting people’s health and improving air quality, focusing on:

  • improving the health of people most affected by air pollution and targeting our efforts on those groups
  • the places where vulnerable groups spend their time
  • the impact of particulate matter
  • creating evidence by focusing on target areas or ‘test beds’
  • working and sharing with a broad coalition of partners

We don’t expect this to be easy - we will need to bring together leading experts in atmospheric science, transport, construction, behavioural economics and political science. By working in place we can broaden this coalition to include those with real levers for change - schools, the NHS, local businesses and citizens themselves.

Kate Langford, Programme Director for the health effects of air pollution
Kate Langford Programme Director, Impact on Urban Health

Improving the health of those most affected by air pollution

We will concentrate on those most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution – children from pregnancy to early adolescence, people with heart and lung conditions and older people. By doing this, we are more likely to:

  • Bring about improvements in overall health in our area
  • See tangible changes that we can measure

Air pollution doesn't discriminate, but we do know it can affect both the young and old most devastatingly. 700 people die every week from preventable conditions, so this programme rightly calls for targeted interventions that impact health outcomes.

Polly Billington Director, UK100

Places where vulnerable groups spend their time

In order to better understand people’s exposure to air pollution, we are carrying out research into where and how people live, work, learn and travel. This way we can more effectively develop and test possible solutions.

The impact of particulate matter

Lambeth and Southwark are some of the best-measured places for air pollution in the world.

We know air pollution is slowly improving and London’s expanded ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) is likely to substantially reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution.

However, in the short term, it is likely that ULEZ will have less of an impact on PM2.5 pollution, which has the strongest association with long-term health problems.

We also know that local authorities and others might be more urgently focusing on NOx over PM2.5. The legal limits for PM2.5 in the UK are currently higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

Creating evidence by starting with a small number of target areas

Air pollution has multiple causes and people can be exposed to it in many ways – both indoors and outdoors. However, less is known about what genuinely works to reduce its impact on our health.

Research we commissioned from King’s College London found: “Few of the interventions identified assessed the effect on air quality, and even fewer considered the impact on public health. In many cases, it was not clear how large the likely health benefit is and by how much air quality will be improved.”

To match the complexity of the problem, we will need a combination of solutions operating at the same time. To do this effectively, we are concentrating on building the evidence base of what works, and focusing our resources in a small number of target areas.

To monitor, assess and enact an effective air quality intervention in a specific area, a localised understanding of emission sources, atmospheric distribution of pollutants, and exposure hotspots is essential.

Frank Kelly Professor of Environmental Health, King’s College London

Working and sharing with a broad coalition of partners

Over the ten years of our programme, we will work on multiple projects simultaneously and with many partners – from local residents and community groups to urban planners, businesses and the NHS. We call this a whole-systems approach, which helps us tackle complex health challenges from different angles.

We also want to share what has and hasn’t worked with other London boroughs and cities.

This way, successful initiatives that have been tested at our local level, can be scaled up and applied in other urban areas in the UK and in other cities around the world.

Cleaning up our toxic air will improve our health, reduce pressure on our overstretched NHS and make our cities better places to live. But progress to date has been slow. It’s therefore fantastic to see Impact on Urban Health launch its new programme on air pollution. Their wealth of experience in working locally on urban health issues will deliver new approaches to cleaning up our air, as well as standards of best practice. We look forward to working with them on this new endeavour and sharing the lessons learnt across the UK and beyond.

Jane Burston Clean Air Fund
Kate Langford, Programme Director for the health effects of air pollution

Work with us

We want to learn from, and work with, many others. If you’re interested in partnering with us share your idea today.

Contact Kate, Programme Director for the health effects of air pollution