Air pollution ‘harmful’ at all stages of life leading to miscarriages, low sperm, dementia and cancer
Ten years of studies shows exposure to certain particles leads to miscarriages, low sperm count, cancer and can stunt children’s lung growth
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The report, commissioned by the Greater London Authority, found later in adulthood, air pollution can also cause chronic illnesses, cancer and strokes.
The review of key evidence on the effects of air pollution is drawn from more than 35,000 studies in the last 10 years and details the ways it causes harm from pre-birth to old age.
Researchers from Imperial College London’s Environmental Research Group found that during pregnancy air pollution harms foetal development and can cause low birth weight, miscarriages and a low sperm count in men.
In children, it can stunt lung growth, cause asthma and affect blood pressure, cognitive abilities and mental health, while in adulthood, it makes early death more likely through multiple chronic illnesses, cancer and strokes.
‘The wider impacts are hiding in plain sight’
The researchers said that particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are particularly harmful – which both come from vehicle exhausts.
There is no evidence to identify a threshold where PM2.5 does no harm and even people living in the least polluted suburbs of London are still being affected, they added.
The authors wrote: “While headline figures on the health impact of air pollution focus on the equivalent number of premature deaths, the wider impacts are hiding in plain sight in the contribution of air pollution to the burden of chronic diseases.
“These affect our quality of life and have a large cost to society through additional health and social care costs, as well our ability to learn, work and contribute to society.”
They added: “Perhaps, the most important new finding is evidence related to both the impact of air pollution on brain health, including mental health and dementia, and early life impacts that could lead to future health burdens within the population. Both represent significant, but currently unquantified costs to society and the economy.”
Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was the first person to have air pollution listed as a cause of death for an individual person in the UK. She died in 2013 at the age of nine after suffering an asthma attack brought on by inhaling traffic fumes.
Public Health England estimated that up to 43,000 people a year are dying in the UK because of air pollution and it could cost the country as much as £18.6 billion by 2035 unless action is taken.
The authors of the current research said there should be policies aimed at “reducing the accumulating harm from air pollution and the health degradation”.
They added that there should also be policies in place to protect people “who have become vulnerable to current pollution concentrations.”
The work was commissioned by the Greater London Authority and drew heavily on findings from the World Health Organisation, the UK Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, the Royal College of Physicians, the Health Effects Institute, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.