CROYDON COMMENTARY: Thousands of Londoners die each year because of an environmental issue which our MPs, councillors and London Mayor seem unwilling to do anything about. CONNIE MINTON says it is long overdue that we demanded action over this public health scandal
Nearly 9,500 people in London die every year due to contaminated drinking water.
Do I have your attention now?
That opening statement is, of course, untrue. The truth is, cryptosporidium infected 231 people in Wales in 2005 and the water company faced immediate fines and restrictions and every trace of the bug was removed before it was deemed safe for human consumption. We drink on average 2 to 3 litres of water every day. Ever since John Snow traced the 1854 cholera outbreak to a water pump in Broad Street and contributed to the idea of environmental impact on the health of the public, we recognise that clean drinking water is a fundamental public health issue.
Yet 9,500 people in London do die every year because of an environmental impact upon their health. Not because of the water they drink, but because of the air that they breathe.26
Healthy human lungs breathe in 10,000 litres of air every day. The effects of air pollution on human health are far-reaching. The harmful effects of air pollution to human health have been demonstrated widely, ranging from cancer, lung and heart disease to diabetes and dementia in old age.
Children are the real losers in this: their lungs are still developing and are more prone to damage when exposed to polluted air. They are shorter than adults and therefore closer to exhaust fumes expelled from vehicles. And they have higher respiratory and metabolic rates than adults.
Longer exposure to damaging pollution means they are more likely to suffer from disease and so suffer reduced life expectancy. Even small quantities, if breathed by developing children, can lead to a marked reduction in life expectancy in the long term.2
Air pollution is a direct cause of childhood asthma exacerbations and bronchitis in children 2,3, 4,5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and babies13 and has been shown to stunt their lung growth. 10,11
It is linked to growth retardation, pre-term births and low birth weight in babies.14 15 16 17 18
Particular matter is found in the blood stream of unborn babies and heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants significantly affect their cognitive and neurological development in children, leading to behavioural deficits and learning impairment. 19,20
Evidence shows that reduction of air pollutants leads to a decrease in hospital admissions for respiratory complaints and an improvement in lung function growth rates in children.2
Vehicle exhaust contributes a large proportion to air pollution and is the easiest modifiable source of air pollution.
So are we doing anything about this? Quite the opposite.
Traffic increased by 70per cent between 1970 and 2004 and is likely to increase further.
Particle pollution is highest inside vehicles1 and children spend an increasing amount of time inside cars, often when being driven to or from school. The overall proportion of car journeys has increased over time: 50 per cent of children are being driven to school nationally, compared with 40 per cent eight years ago, exposing children and adults to concentrated harmful pollutants.
Overall the number of trips made by cars has also increased. And in Croydon, that could increase yet further: in all the plans for the regeneration of the town centre around the Westfield and Hammerson shopping mall, there has not been a single proposal, from the developers, the council or Transport for London which could help to reduce private car use. Indeed, the £1.4 billion development appears to depend on increased car use.
There are simple things we can do ourselves to limit some of the damage, such as turning off the car engine if stationary for more than 60 seconds: pollution is much higher when cars are idling. We can also walk more, cycle or use public transport when possible. Using online grocery deliveries, to replace our individual trip to the shops, also reduces pollution.
However, large-scale changes are needed to address increasingly toxic air.
As the Beddington incinerator is built and construction begins in the next year on the Fairfield Halls and the Westfield/Hammerson development, there is going to be an increase in the number of diesel-fuelled HGVs trucking backwards and forwards around the whole of the borough, and not just the town centre.
It seems a good time to demand action on air pollution.
It is time that we demand clean air in the same way that we expect to be supplied with clean water.
How can you do that?
- Write to Stuart Collins, Croydon Council’s cabinet member for a “cleaner, greener” borough, who also happens to be the chair of the South London Waste Partnership, who have commissioned the Beddington incinerator: email@example.com
- Write to the Mayor of London, who is forming his strategy on transport in the capital: firstname.lastname@example.org
- And write to your MP to see what he plans on doing on air pollution: email@example.com (if you live in Croydon South), firstname.lastname@example.org (Croydon Central) or email@example.com (Croydon North) – and please do let Inside Croydon know whether you get a reply, and what your elected representative has to say (the website’s email address is at the bottom of this article).
1 http://road.cc/content/news/129814-testing-mps-reveals-worst-air-pollution-inside-cars accessed 1/3/16
2 Brunekreef B (1997) Air pollution and life expectancy: is there a relation? Occup Environ Med 54(11):781
3 Brauer M et al. (2007). Air pollution and development of asthma, allergy and infections in a birth cohort. European Respiratory Journal, 29(5):879–888.
4 Gehring U et al. (2010). Traffic-related air pollution and the development of asthma and allergies during the first 8 years of life. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 181(6):596–603.
5 MacIntyre EA et al. (2011). Residential air pollution and otitis media during the first two years of life. Epidemiology, 22(1):81–89.
6 Morgenstern V et al. (2007). Respiratory health and individual estimated exposure to traffic-related air pollutants in a cohort of young children. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 64(1):8–16.
7 Karr CJ et al. (2007). Effects of subchronic and chronic exposure to ambient air pollutants on infant bronchiolitis. American Journal of Epidemiology, 165(5):553–560.
8 Karr CJ et al. (2009a). Infant exposure to fine particulate matter and traffic and risk of hospitalization for RSV bronchiolitis in a region with lower ambient air pollution. Environmental Research, 109(3):321–327.
9 Karr CJ et al. (2009b). Influence of ambient air pollutant sources on clinical encounters for infant bronchiolitis. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 180(10):995–1001
10 Eenhuizen E et al. (2012). Traffic related air pollution is related to interrupter resistance in four-year old children. European Respiratory Journal (doi: 10.1183/09031936.00020812; http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/early/2012/10/25/09031936.00020812.abstract, accessed 9 May 2013).
11 Götschi T et al. (2008). Long-term effects of ambient air pollution on lung function: a review. Epidemiology, 19(5):690–701.
12 Mudway I et al http://www.londonair.org.uk/london/asp/LAQNSeminar/pdf/jan2008/Impact_Of_Air_Quality_On_Health_Ian_S_Mudway_KCL.pdf
13 Heroux ME et al. Quantifying the health impacts of ambient air pollutants: recommendations of a WHO/Europe project. International Journal of Public Health July 2015, Volume 60, Issue 5, pp 619-627
14 Pedersen M et al. Ambient air pollution and low birthweight: a European cohort study (ESCAPE). Lancet Respir Med. 2013 Nov;1(9):695-704. doi: 10.1016/S2213-2600(13)70192-9. Epub 2013 Oct 15)
15 Shah PS, Balkhair T (2011). Air pollution and birth outcomes: a systematic review. Environment International, 37(2):498–516.
16 Parker JD et al. (2011). The International Collaboration on Air Pollution and Pregnancy Outcomes: initial results. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(7):1023–1028.
17 Proietti E et al. (2013). Air pollution during pregnancy and neonatal outcome: a review. Journal of Aerosol Medicine and Pulmonary Drug Delivery, 26(1):9–23.
18 Ritz B, Wilhelm M (2008). Ambient air pollution and adverse birth outcomes: methodologic issues in an emerging field. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, 102(2):182–190.
19 Volk HE, Lurmann F, Penfold B, Hertz-Picciotto I, McConnell R. Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;70(1):71-7. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.266.
20 Peterson BS et al. Effects of prenatal exposure to air pollutants on the development of brain white matter, cognition and behaviour in later childhood. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015 Jun 1;72(6):531-40. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.57
21 (Cancer Research UK, accessed on 1/3/16 http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/air-pollution-radon-and-cancer/how-air-pollution-can-cause-cancer)
22 Rückerl R et al. (2011). Health effects of particulate air pollution: a review of epidemiological evidence. Inhalation Toxicology, 23(10):555–592.
23 Brook RD et al. (2008). The relationship between diabetes mellitus and traffic-related air pollution. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 50(1):32–38.
24 Krämer U et al. (2010). Traffic-related air pollution and incident type 2 diabetes: results from the SALIA cohort study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(9):1273–1279.
25 Andersen et al., REVIHAAP Project: Technical Report Page 9
- Dr Connie Minton is a Purley resident and health service professional
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