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Experts call for "massive" pollution awareness drive in the UK

The public responds well to air pollution messages when they are given the information they need but the majority "are still in the dark"

Before and after polling of this year's Clean Air Day campaign showed raised awareness
Before and after polling of this year's Clean Air Day campaign showed raised awareness

Air pollution is an “urgent public health issue” in the UK but the Government’s commitment to tackling the crisis is called in to question by experts.


Green charity Global Action Plan (GAP) has warned that the country is “sleepwalking” into a health crisis unless the government massively invests in public information on air pollution.


Air quality campaign


Findings released by Clean Air Day, the country’s largest air quality campaign, reveal that people respond well when given accurate information and the means to do something about air pollution.


But this is little comfort said GAP, which is behind the research, unless the government commits to an information campaign to match the scale of the problem.


“Air pollution is an urgent public health issue that’s up there with heart disease, diabetes and cancer. To properly deal with it we need an ambitious and sustained public health campaign on a similar scale to no-smoking,” Chris Large, senior partner at GAP.


“When we have needed to fund previous health campaigns such as smoking, drink driving and healthy eating, the Government has found the money. It’s time that funding was found to educate the millions of people who live in areas of unsafe air pollution.”


At present, GAP said, the Department of Health, Public Health England, Defra or any other national body have:

  • No plans to run an immediate national public information campaign on air quality
  • No plans to provide any training for healthcare professionals so that they can provide urgent advice to patients and the public on how to protect their health from air pollution
  • No plans to educate school children and parents on how to limit the extent to which air pollution affects their health.

This year’s annual Clean Air Day campaign, backed by leading academics,16 medical colleges and other major health bodies, culminated in hundreds of events across the country in June. It also inspired the UK’s first Clean Air Summit, a gathering of city mayors and other local politicians representing some 20 million people.

"It’s time that funding was found to educate the millions of people who live in areas of unsafe air pollution”

According to GAP, before- and after-campaign polling showed more awareness of air pollution issues following Clean Air Day. It also revealed a greater public willingness to address problems when people had reliable information to hand.


Findings included more awareness of the dangers of indoor air pollution following the campaign – up by 12 per cent to 74 per cent of respondents – while 45 per cent of respondents are aware that cyclists and pedestrians often breathe cleaner air than drivers.


The same findings revealed that 22 per cent chose to cycle or walk a route they had previously driven, compared to 16 per cent before the campaign – an increase of 37 per cent – and 71 per cent now open windows for ventilation when they are cooking or cleaning – an increase of 22 per cent.


“Clean Air Day is urging the government to fund a major public health campaign to help people avoid pollution every day. This should be on the scale of no-smoking or, more recently, Change for Life or Be Clear on Cancer health campaigns. An investment of at least £10m per year is needed,” added Large.


“Surely there is enough evidence now to demonstrate the need for a nationwide public awareness campaign, funded by the government, to protect the health of the public?”


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