Air Pollution: The Magical Power of Nature

Yorkshire & HumberGeneric Health Relevance, Respiratory
Start Date: 2 Jul 2014

The challenge

Over half of the world’s population now lives in towns and cities. By the middle of this century this is expected to increase to 70%. Our cities and towns are becoming increasingly polluted, and our parks, gardens and woods are in danger.

What we are doing about it

The CLAHRC research team works with a number of similar studies in Europe to examine links between environmental influences and health. This work has shown that during pregnancy exposure to pollutants commonly found in the air, such as those from traffic, causes babies to be born at a lower birth weight, even where the pollution is at levels well below those allowed in current European Union (EU) air-quality rules. A low birth weight is serious because it is a predictor of other health problems in childhood and later life. This work has also shown that having a local natural ‘green’ environment to walk in, such as parks and woods, has a beneficial effect for both mothers and children.

Our future plans

The researchers are working closely with our partners in public health, transport, air quality and the voluntary sector in Bradford to make improvements to the local environment and to measure the impact of these improvements on health. We are developing local projects to increase ‘active travel’ such as walking or cycling, and to reduce car use. CLAHRC Yorkshire and Humber are working with the ‘Better Start Bradford project to assess the impact of new strategies to make environmental changes which aim to reduce exposure to emissions for pregnant women and small children, and discovering, developing and promoting local green spaces and community gardens. Nationally we want to encourage the introduction of low vehicle emission strategies.

Changes that have been implemented as a result

This work has already had an impact on European policy. There have been changes that have been influenced by our work to make a lower level of emissions compulsory in cities. Findings from this research also helped Bradford Council and local bus companies secure government funding for a green makeover to some of the region’s most polluting diesel buses. Children who live near busy roads in Bradford can now walk to school and play out without breathing in such high levels of pollutants.

Dr Rosie McEachan