Air quality

What is air pollution?

Air pollution occurs when gases, dust particles, and fumes contaminate our air and make it harmful to humans, animals and plants. Air pollutants include nitrogen oxides, particles, ammonia, sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants come from various man-made sources such as transport (motorbikes, cars, vans, buses, trains, aircraft), residential and commercial combustion (wood burners, bonfires, construction sites), industrial processes, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing/energy industries.

How does it affect our health?

When air pollutants enter your body they can have effects on your eyes, nose, throat, lungs, heart and blood vessels. Short term health effects include asthma, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Long term health effects include stroke, lung cancer, respiratory conditions and cardiovascular disease. Emerging evidence suggests air pollution may affect the brain with possible links to dementia and also have an effect on early life such as low birth weight.

Air pollution affects everyone, but some are exposed more to air pollution such as those living by busy roads, and some are more vulnerable to the health effects – older people, pregnant women, children, and those with cardiovascular or respiratory disease.

airAlert service

If you do have a respiratory condition that is triggered by air pollution, the airAlert service can help you by sending air pollution alerts when levels in your area increase to moderate level or above. For more information, visit the Sussex-Air website

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The financial and health costs of air pollution

In 2010 the estimated financial cost of the health impacts was expected to exceed £8-20 billion. The health cost of long term exposure to man-made air pollution is estimated to be equivalent to 28,000 – 36,000 deaths per year. If we can reduce fine particulate air pollution in England by just 1-millionth of a gram per cubic meter, this could prevent many tens of thousands of cases of coronary heart disease, strokes, asthma and lung cancer. For example, in 2017 there were over 16,000 case of coronary heart disease associated with fine particulate air pollution. By 2035 there is strong evidence that this will rise to nearly 350,000 cases.  

For more information about air pollution, visit the Public Health England's Health Matters website.

To find out what we can do to reduce air pollution and improve our air quality, visit our Being active and Healthy home pages.

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