Senior Policy and Projects Manager – Air Quality, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation
A recent report from leading charities reveals that around six million over 65s in England are at risk from asthma attacks and lung damage due to toxic air.
Air pollution is dangerous for everyone, but for the most vulnerable people in society, including older people who are more likely to suffer from lung disease or have weakened lungs from ageing, spikes in air pollution levels can put them at risk of breathing difficulties and having asthma attacks or COPD flare-ups.
In a recent report, ‘The invisible threat: how we can protect people from air pollution and create a fairer, healthier society’, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation revealed that 59% of older people are living in areas where fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the most worrying type of pollution that can penetrate deep into the lungs, is above the levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Impact of air pollution on quality of life
Exposure to air pollution increases the chance of a person dying early, developing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Emerging research has even shown links with air pollution and cognitive decline, including dementia.
The research, which used PM2.5 data collected in 2019, shockingly revealed that in 36 local authorities every care home is located in areas with levels of pollution exceeding WHO recommended guidelines. That’s 4,382 care homes that provide critical care and support to older people, located in highly polluted areas across England.
Exposure to air pollution increases the chance of a person dying early, developing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
There are pollution black spots across the country affecting 98% of care homes in London, 97% in Epsom and Ewell, 95% in Oxford, 83% in Sandwell, 76% in Northampton, 63.5% in Swindon, 47% in Coventry, 40% in City of Bristol, 37% in Birmingham, 36% in Leicester, 33% in South Gloucestershire and 15% in Liverpool.
Stronger laws and national health protection plan needed
Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation are urgently calling for the Government to introduce stronger clean air laws that set out targets in line with WHO guidelines, which must be met by 2030.
In addition, charities are also calling for a national health protection plan for England overseen by a newly created air quality minister to safeguard those most at-risk from the effects of toxic air. This plan should include training for health professionals and an alert system that tells the general public when air pollution is going to be high, which directly informs care homes and medical centres so that those most at risk can protect themselves from harm.