Exposure to air pollutants has been linked to suppressed lung growth, asthma, heart disease, foetal brain growth damage and the onset of diabetes
Air pollution from traffic and industry is leading to the premature death of more than three million people a year. Globally, that’s more than malaria and HIV/Aids combined.
Pollutants including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from road traffic and sulphur dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels, have been linked to suppressed lung growth in children, asthma, heart disease and the onset of type 2 diabetes. The exposure of pregnant women to air pollution has also been found to affect to foetal brain growth.
It is an avoidable and unequal health burden. In London, for example, more than 400 schools are located in areas that exceed limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution, but four-fifths of those are in deprived areas.
Even in countries with a long history of tackling air pollution, the problem has not gone away. The UK, which passed its first anti-air pollution legislation 60 years ago today, is currently involved in a long-running legal battle over its failure to cut pollution to legal levels.
This infographic helps explain the main pollutants and their health impacts.
Data contained within this graphic was compiled from the report ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’ by the Royal College of Physicians