The quality of the air we breathe can directly impact our health and wellbeing. The most common air pollutants are nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter < 10µm (known as PM10 or PM2.5).
By reducing air pollution, we can improve health, decrease the burden on health services, enhance communities and tackle climate change.
What can you do to improve outdoor air quality?
- Choose cleaner travel options: walking, cycling, train, bus, electric/hybrid vehicles and non-diesel vehicles.
- Think before you drive: don’t drive short trips, avoid driving when air pollution is high, lift share and travel outside rush hour.
- Drive smart: no idling, turn your car off at traffic lights and in stationary traffic, drive smoothly at a steady speed, keep your car in good condition, including the correct tyre pressure and changing air filters. More info: the AA, Energy Saving Trust(EST) and Centre for Sustainable Energy(CSE).
- Use smokeless fuels for heating and fires.
What can you do to reduce the impact on your health?
- Check the air pollution forecast. For local pollution warnings see airAlert, for national updates and forecasts see DEFRA-Air or you could try the AirVisual app.
- If the forecast shows poor air quality and you or your children are vulnerable to air pollution, you may want to consider reducing physical activity, particularly outdoors. Understanding the forecasts and health advice can be found here: airAlert, DEFRA and British Lung Foundation.
- Change the way you travel. Air pollution exposure is worse in a car than cycling or walking. Regularly changing the air filters in a car, as well as closing windows and switching off the fan or heaters when in heavy traffic can help reduce exposure in cars. More info: Kumar & Goel (2016) paper, Environmental Audit Committee report and Healthy Air experiment.
- Walk or cycle a less busy and polluted route. If possible, travel outside rush hour.
- Giving up smoking makes you less vulnerable to effects of air pollution.
What about indoor air quality?
- Damp and mould affect indoor air quality and houses should ideally be kept between 30-50% humidity. Reduce condensation by ventilating when cooking and washing, drying clothes outside, repairing leaks promptly and adequately heating your home. Make sure to wipe condensation off windows and clean away any mould as soon as possible.
- Cigarette smoke can affect both the smoker and those around them; try not to smoke indoors, and if you are looking to quit smoking you can get support from a healthcare professional. Support and info from NHS Smokefree.
- Carbon monoxide from faulty gas appliances and burning solid fuel can impact health and even be deadly. Ensure gas appliances are maintained and serviced, and use a carbon monoxide detector for extra piece of mind.
- Keep dust, pet hair and other allergens down by washing soft furnishings, vacuuming and mopping floors, using a doormat and consider removing shoes at the door.
- Air fresheners, fragranced cleaning products and scented candles release irritant chemical particulates, so look to use fragrance-free or naturally scented products, avoid aerosol sprays and where you have to use a stronger product open windows to ventilate.
- VOCs are solvents which can impact your health if breathed in. Look for adhesives, cleaning products and paints that are low or no VOCs. If you are doing DIY that may create high levels of pollution try to do this outside.
- Lack of ventilation contributes to poor air quality, make sure that extractor fans are working properly and that windows can be opened and safely secured.
- Indoor plants have been shown to improve indoor air quality, by both filtering the air and absorbing carbon dioxide.
- Other causes of indoor air pollution include: radon, legionella, asbestos.
- More info and advice from British Lung Foundation.
airAlert is a free service, provided by Southampton City Council and Eastleigh Borough Council, that will send messages to your mobile or home telephone, informing you that poor air quality is predicted in your area. You can register for airAlert here.