Credit: FMT

Yes, you read me right!
I first thought this was an April fools day prank. I mean, you can take any two random issues and search for a statistical correlation and probably find one. When I read about the increased oxidative stress though that long-term exposure to air pollutants puts onto our system, I swayed.
I admit though, I am in a bit of a shock about these news. The list of “things to be concerned about” is already long enough without this.

What do we know?

According to new data (May 2018) from the World Health Organisation 9 out of 10 people breathe polluted air. Does this mean that about 90% of the world population will be(come) obese? No!
Most studies on that subject specifically looked for the correlation between long-term pollution exposure and obesity in children. OK, that doesn’t sound uplifting since they’re our future! We’re not only subjecting our offspring to toxic air pollutants, leaving them with a planet scarce of resources and climate change, no, we’re making them obese too! Wonderful prospect…

As for us adults, the picture is equally grim. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into our lungs and our cardiovascular system. That is substantially more than I previously thought! 

Collected data so far

There are plenty of medical studies that have been conducted since 2005 that examine the correlation between short- and long-term exposure to air pollutants and it’s potential effect on obesity. Commonly examined air pollutants included NO2, SO2, O3, PM, and overall air quality index. Whilst medical research results remain somewhat inconclusive, the WHO Global Ambient Air Quality Database, which covers 4,300 cities and settlements in 108 countries, sends an unequivocal message. More than 80% of cities around the world are exposed to air pollution that exceeds the the WHO limits.

Various results from rodent studies found that long-term exposure to air pollutants induces oxidative stress and inflammation in the organs and circulatory system, which in turn leads to  metabolic dysfunction, a precursor to obesity.
Aha – that’s the link I was looking for, to convince me that there is an actual correlation between air pollution and obesity. Bearing in mind, correlation is not causation. 
Though, if our immune system finds itself under continous attack from fighting off pollutants with every breath, it seems quite logical that oxidative stress is one of the plausible outcomes. Oxidative stress, in turn, causes inflammation.
Can you see where I am going with this?

So, where do go from here?

I normally take a deep breath to help me digsting unpleasant news and calm myself down – now, I am not so sure anymore that this is a good suggestion. 

Living in London, a global Metropolis, makes breathing an everyday risk I have to take. What else can I do? Do I need a risk assessment before leaving my flat? It’s not as if there was an option to hold my breath until… Well, until what?
Should we maybe copy the Asian cultures by now and wear face masks? It’s common in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and wider parts of Asia. Maybe they’re a step ahead of us. 

Considering the impending Brexit – where is the UK heading? I think that this is a valid, yet concerning question. A recent communication from the European Commission reminded Member States of the need for urgent action. The number of premature deaths due to air pollution could be reduced by more than 50% by 2030 if Member States applied EU policies on air pollutant emissions, climate and energy. Under the new NEC Directive Member States should develope their National Air Pollution Control Programmes (NAPCPs) by 1 April 2019. The key word here making all the difference is ‘Member States‘.

Member States. Quo vadis UK?

Since 2010 private judicial reviews have been brought against the UK Government for the continuing failure to comply with the limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels.
In early 2014 the EU Commission began infraction proceedings against the UK for its failure to meet air quality targets for nitrogen dioxide set by the EU level Air Quality Directive.
By May 2018 the EU Commission referred the UK to the Court of Justice of the EU for “for failure to respect limit values for NO2, and for failing to take appropriate measures to keep exceedance periods as short as possible.”

The UK Government made it clear that law derived from the EU, including air quality legislation, would be converted into domestic law after Exit Day. However, the caveat to that is that the UK could then potentially amend air quality standards and review any deadlines for meeting them. Worse, the role that EU institutions play in monitoring and enforcing air quality targets will be lost.

A draft Environmental Principles and Governance Bill is due to be published by the end of 2018. The rest is speculation.

Is there something I didn’t get right? Please let me know, we’re all here to learn form each other! 


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