Air pollution is increasingly reported as being something we need to improve if we are to prevent damaging the health of millions of people. Anyone who experienced the ‘pea-souper’ fogs of the 1960s and earlier needs little introduction to the subject, but the Clean Air Acts in the UK in 1956, 1963 and 1993 sorted that out didn’t they? After all, we don’t see those dreadful weather conditions any more do we and now that we no longer burn coal very much those chimneys belching black smoke are a thing of the past?
In truth, conditions are very much better now compared with the 50s but we are a long way from eliminating the air pollution problem, The rise of the motor car and diesel goods transport is a major factor and the harmful, irritant gasses released are much less obvious so tend to be hidden. In the UK these pollutants are now closely monitored by the Environmental Agency and include nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, pm2.5 particulates.
Exposure to airway irritants is still very common outside the home – the popularity of wood-burning stoves in urban and suburban areas is a good example of a new trend that can make matters worse. Bonfires and fireworks are a problem at some times of the year and Global Warming may also lead to increased risk of uncontrolled burning such as happened on the moors surrounding Manchester in 2018 and happens in the US and are currently ongoing in large parts of Australia. Burning causes vast quantities of very fine dust particles and gasses to be released that someone with asthma can find very disabling and after the ongoing bushfires National Asthma Council Australia have published useful help about how to cope with asthma if you find yourself in a smoky area.
An excellent review of the harm air pollution can do to our health and a call to government to take action was released in 2018 by the Royal College of Physicians (Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution ) and it has been followed up two years later in 2020 when rather discouragingly they note that some chances to change things have already been missed and progress has been minimal https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/reducing-air-pollution-uk-progress-report-2018
Is there anything we can do to reduce prevent us from inhaling these irritants?
The British Lung Foundation has an extensive article on this subject for outdoor air. They aren’t particularly supportive about the use of facemasks but some aspergillosis patients report that there is some benefit, especially when travelling or gardening.
Indoors as long as we keep doors and windows closed we can keep out a lot of the pollution in the outside air, but of course, it is not always possible to do so as we also need to vent out excess moisture from our homes at regular intervals eg when we shower, bathe, cook or do the laundry. Air filters for use in the home have long been available varying from the token small device to large floor standing devices but are they any good? The answer is that they can reliably clean some things out of the air provided that they are big enough to suit your room size. Good Housekeeping has written a useful guide.
There is a freely available world map of air pollution at https://waqi.info/