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Air pollution in the UK: What’s the impact and how can it be reduced?

Air pollution is the most significant environmental health threat in the United Kingdom. A recent investigation by The Guardian found that 98% of all Europeans breathe hazardous polluted air, which can be linked to more than 400,000 deaths every year.

The UK makes no exception, with larger cities like Leeds, London, Slough, and Portsmouth amongst those with the most polluted homes. Britons must now address the situation and acknowledge the need for improvements.

No matter whether you’re starting a new business or renovating your home, it’s always worth knowing how to prevent and remediate the effects of air pollution.

What’s the state of air pollution in the UK?

In the UK, the most deprived communities are also the most likely to be polluted. But the issue is even more widespread than deep-rooted deprivation-based inequality.

It’s now known that air pollution harms UK residents at every stage of life, causing a wide and shocking range of consequential health issues from miscarriages in women to stunted lung growth in children.

Almost every postcode is likely to exceed pollution limits detailed in World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, and mounting concerns suggest that the government simply isn’t doing enough to tackle the problem. It’s time for the nation to realise that air pollution needs to be tackled on a structural, commercial, and household level.

What are the effects of air pollution?

Just a few of the harmful effects of air pollution on human health include:

  • Higher mortality rates: Human-made air pollution in the UK is said to be responsible for up to 36,000 deaths every year.
  • Respiratory disease: Particulate matter is a mixture of liquid and solid particles in the air, released by burning fuels like coal, gasoline, wood and diesel. When inhaled, it can cause lung health conditions including trachea, bronchus and lung cancers, lower respiratory infections, and aggravated asthma.
  • Increased risk of illness: Those living in heavily polluted areas are at a heightened risk of stroke and chronic illnesses, which may include ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cataracts.

Additionally, some of the socioeconomic and environmental effects of air pollution include:

  • High costs: Air pollution costs the NHS and social care services billions of pounds every year.
  • Pressure on health services: Since air pollution can cause serious illnesses or worsen existing health conditions, it’s estimated that an additional 20,000 hospital admissions each year can be linked to air pollution episodes.
  • Environmental damage: Air pollution harms nature too. It can damage crops, plants and trees in several ways, often leading to stinted growth and lower survival rates in tree seedlings. It leaves urban environments riskier for animals and increases plant susceptibility to pests and other environmental factors.

Simple ways to reduce air pollution at home and work

You can make a difference to the air quality in your local community with a few simple steps and easy habits. These include:

  • Emissions-free travel: Wherever possible, try to choose modes of transport that don’t rely on fossil fuels. Walking or cycling to work or school could make more of a difference than you’d expect.
  • Shop local: Try to limit your travel if closer options are available. You could even cut costs on parking and fuel too.
  • Switch energy suppliers: Not all energy companies are eco-friendly. Try to choose suppliers that only provide energy from renewable sources.
  • Support relevant legislation: It’s important to sign relevant petitions and support Clean Air initiatives, which aim to reduce traffic in populated areas.
  • Plant more greenery: Trees play an invaluable role in reducing CO2 content in the air. Adding just a few to your local area could improve the air quality and boost your health too.


While corporate giants are to blame for much of the air pollution in the UK, it’s still possible to improve air quality in communities and on a local level. Starting with your own routine, you can help to create a safer environment for future generations.