Don’t be idling: It’s time to do something about air quality

National Clean Air Day has been set up in response to the health concerns raised by pollution levels
National Clean Air Day has been set up in response to the health concerns raised by pollution levels

We’ve all done it. Sat waiting in the car for the kids to come out of school; our partners to leave a shop; friends to finish work ...

In busy lives, those minutes spent waiting add up – especially if, as so many do, we leave the engine idling.

However, while we are all aware that walking alongside a busy road or through a car park with lots of engines running can’t be very good for us, surprising new research has revealed that actually the biggest victim is the driver.

The simple act of leaving the engine running while we’re waiting for someone or something adds to a problem that needs to be addressed, says the charity responsible for the first National Clean Air Day, held this week.

But can simply turning the engine off really make a difference?

“Yes it can!” said Dr Ben Barratt, senior lecturer in Air Quality Science at King’s College London.

He explained: “King’s College London helped to measure the impact of ‘no-idling days’.

“On designated ‘clean air action days’, teams of trained volunteers approached drivers of parked vehicles at various locations across London and asked them to switch off their engines.

“Hundreds of drivers were engaged and the project reached almost four million people online during the two days of action.”

The results showed that turning off engines had the most impact where pollution was highest and where the no-idling action was focused.

In those places, air pollution peak concentrations were reduced by as much as 20-30 per cent.

The problems of pollution may be most associated with London and the world’s biggest cities – but actually it affects us all.

Falkirk regularly gets a dishonourable mention in the list of areas with poor air quality.

The law states that if a local authority finds any places where targets are unlikely to be met, it must declare an air quality management area (AQMA) there.

Falkirk is one of 14 authorities that has an active AQMA, with sites in the centre, Grangemouth, Haggs and Banknock.

But should we worry? Well, there are no shortage of reasons; especially if you have children.

Because they have smaller lungs, the effects of breathing air that isn’t so fresh can have profound consequences.

Let’s look at the facts from – they don’t make for cheery reading.

High air pollution is linked to low birth weight and premature births.

Being exposed to air pollution during pregnancy and after birth affects a baby’s lung function development.

There is a strong link between air pollution and the worsening of asthma symptoms, it may also play a part in causing asthma in some people.

The more children with asthma are exposed to air pollution, the more they suffer with long-term respiratory symptoms.

Higher amounts of air pollutants are associated with more asthma attacks, more hospital admissions and a higher mortality rate.

Exposure to air pollution is also linked to more coughs and bronchitis.

And it’s not just children who should take care.

Elderly people and adults with breathing difficulties are also at risk.

The campaign also points out other health risks that have been proven to be caused by pollution – lung and bladder cancer, respiratory disease in particular.

There is also growing evidence that high pollution is linked in some way to Type 2 diabetes and even dementia, although this is still being investigated.

But there are ways you can take steps to make things better, says the charity.

It urges people to avoid main roads and take lower traffic routes when on foot or on a bike – using quieter streets can reduce exposure to pollution by 20 per cent.

And while running can expose you to more pollution, don’t give up.

The benefits of exercise outweigh the harm from air pollution you may be exposed to and using equipment such as the CleanSpace tag, which links to a smartphone can help you change your route to make it safer.

As the charity points out, exercise also protects against poor health and it also reduces pollution if it means leaving the car at home.

Air quality is not something we can ignore, they say.

Readers interested in getting a CleanAir tag free of charge should visit https://our.clean.space/ncad. and register for one of the high tech pollution monitors.