Today is Clean Air Day. But why do we need a special day to raise awareness of something we should be able to take for granted – the quality of the air we breathe? And how does it relate to active travel campaigns?
It may shock you to learn that up to 36,000 deaths per year in the UK can be attributed to air pollution. Poor air quality causes heart and lung diseases, is linked to low birth weight and children’s lung development and may even contribute to mental health issues. Clean Air Day, which is held in June each year aims to raise awareness of the causes of air pollution, help people to understand the effects poor air quality has on our lives and to support communities in taking action to tackle air pollution.
Canary in the Cage
In December 2020 the coroner ruled that air pollution caused the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah in London. Comparisons were drawn with the ‘canary in the cage’ traditionally used to check for toxic fumes down mines, and her death is a warning to us all.
The public outcry was justifiably loud, but without everyone making an effort to play a part in reducing emissions, more children will suffer the same fate. Children are already among the most frequent visitors to GPs and respiratory problems are one of the most common reasons for consultations according to a recent report. The problems experienced by our youngest children are just the start of the problems that can be caused and exacerbated by raised levels of air pollution.
What Causes Air Pollution?
There are several key sources of air pollution and road transport plays a big part. It contributes to over 33% of NO2 emissions – a toxic gas produced largely by diesel vehicles – and over 17% of particulate matter pollution according to Public Health England.
Fewer Car Journeys = Better Air
The solution is obvious and we saw how quickly the levels dropped during the major lockdown last year. Average levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) fell to their lowest point since records started in 1997. Many UK cities have been in breach of legal limits on NO2 for more than a decade. The ONS (Office for National Statistics) said covid-19 restrictions were probably a “large contributing factor” to the decline. More cities are looking at ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) options and governments are setting targets for the phasing-out of diesel cars over the next 10 years.
Action on Air Quality
There are many things we as individuals can do, though. Schools across the country have been working with their Local Authorities to tackle the issue of traffic outside the school gates. School Streets trials, Modeshift STARS projects and simple campaigns to ask parents to “park and stride” instead of driving right up to the school have all seen positive engagement and lead to a lowering of dangerous pollutants plus an increase in healthy physical activity.
Impacts of Improving Air Quality
Improving air quality is crucial to reduce the health impacts discussed above and, in turn, help people live longer, healthier lives. A study in 2006 found that reducing PM by 10µg/m3 would extend lifespan in the UK by 5 times more than eliminating casualties on the roads, or 3 times more than eliminating passive smoking.
Find Out More
So, whether you are school looking to improve air quality, a parent looking for ways to make the trip to school healthier for you and your child or a local community wanting some advice on where to start with issues in your area, use the links below, get in touch with your Local Authority or get in touch with us at Brightkidz.
Clean Air Engagement Poster– street posters or window posters to promote your campaign message.
Eco Multi Bubble kit – actual bubbles created by waving wands to draw attention to your active travel information events.
Walking Bubble Launch pack – set up a Modeshift STARS 5 minute walk zone around your school.
Brought to you by Brightwayz and Brightkidz social enterprise – products, projects and information to support active travel initiatives. See our range of products to support your active travel campaigns here. Some items are currently feature on our Brightwayz website www.brightwayz.co.uk