Air pollution is an umbrella term for lots of different types of pollution in the air around us. All these pollutants can be inhaled and absorbed into the body. Different types of pollution are caused by different things and can affect the body in different ways. Air pollution is mostly invisible to the naked eye, so just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) lists the pollutants of concern as:
- Sulphur dioxide
- Nitrogen oxides
- Particular matter (PM10, PM2.5 and PM1)
- Ozone and volatile organic compounds
- Toxic Organic Micro-Pollutants (TOMPS)
- Carbon monoxide
- Lead and heavy metals
Pollution is produced by sources inside and outside buildings, and significant concentrations of pollutants that arise from outside have been measured inside buildings. As most people spend most of their time indoors, the exposure to pollution inside buildings is an important consideration.
The locations in which emissions are created also affects the impact on people’s health. For example, diesel emissions in cities tend to be more harmful to health than emissions from traffic on motorways because of the population density in cities. However, the World Health Organization and the Health Effects Institute are unequivocal in explaining that there is no threshold of particulate pollution concentrations beneath which the health effects drop away. Even at low concentrations, air pollution kills.
It is clear that some sectors must take sizeable action urgently, with energy generation and transport companies responsible for 56% of the Nitrogen Oxides pollutants, which inflame airways and exacerbate symptoms in people with lung and heart conditions. Industry, particularly FMCG and agriculture, is responsible for over half of volatile organic compounds which can irritate people’s airways, create ozone and contribute to climate change.
Yet all companies have a responsibility to act. We know that commuting and business travel together are responsible for almost half of all miles travelled per person in England. Almost 30% of Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) comes from industrial activity, with an additional 12% originating from road transport from both industry and for personal journeys. It is therefore vital that all UK businesses work to clean up their operations, supply chains and help employees drive cleaner and less often.