The UK needs to do more to tackle air pollution, with the European Commission issuing the country with its final warning over its air pollution levels earlier this month.
According to the organisation, legal air pollution levels were breached in 16 areas around the country, including London, Glasgow, Leeds and Birmingham.
If the UK government is unable to lower the levels of air pollution in the affected areas, it could be in line for substantial fines. But the cost of these penalties is really the least of our worries when it comes to air pollution, with growing evidence suggesting a range of negative health impacts.
The Huffington Post recently reported on an American study, which found exposure to high levels of outdoor air pollutants – typically caused by traffic and power plants – could nearly double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in older women.
Caleb Finch and Jiu-Chiuan Chen of the University of Southern California wrote on the website that their findings, as well as those from other studies around the world, support the idea that there is a link between air pollution exposure and developing the disease.
They stated: “If our results are applicable to the general population, fine particulate pollution in the ambient air may be responsible for about one out of every five cases of dementia.”
Their study is based in the US, but the implications for other countries around the world is staggering. The researchers used a similar technique to that utilised in previous research on the impact of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) on heart attack occurrences, but applied it to the effect on the ageing brain.
Following a large group of older women from around the country between 1999 and 2010 allowed them to map their location and estimated exposure to PM2.5. They also collected substantial data about the women’s lifestyles to allow them to account for other risk factors in their calculations.
As a result, they concluded that women living in areas where PM2.5 exceeded the US Environmental Protection Agency’s standards had an 81 per cent greater chance of cognitive decline, and were 92 per cent more likely to develop dementia, than those living where PM2.5 levels were below this standard.
Ensuring high-quality industrial filters are fitted on all power stations, as well as encouraging more motorists to switch to electric vehicles or ditch their cars altogether, are among the steps that governments could take to help lower air pollution levels, particularly in towns and cities.
While this study focused on outdoor air pollution, there are also concerns over the levels of pollution inside. Earlier this month the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) was among a number of organisations to call for steps to be taken to make buildings safe havens from pollution.
Chief executive of the BESA Paul McLaughlin explained there are a number of simple measures that can be taken to achieve this goal, such as ensuring any incoming air is properly filtered and regularly maintaining ventilation systems to keep them in top working order.