Air pollution and health

From time-to-time weather conditions can lead to a build up of air pollutants associated with emissions from transport and the burning of fuel. These raised levels of air pollution can affect health

Weather conditions

In winter, cold, still conditions can lead to an increased level of pollutants at ground level. In summer, hot weather, without much wind can also lead to raised concentrations of pollutants.

Health advice

While most people will not be affected by short term peaks in air pollution, some people - particularly vulnerable groups such as those with existing heart or lung conditions - may experience increased symptoms.

If you think you may be affected by air pollution levels, you should consider modifying your treatment as you usually do when symptoms increase and, consult your doctor if this is not effective.

You may also wish to reduce the time you spend outdoors or avoid busy, congested streets.

If you have noticed in the past that your breathing is affected during cold, calm conditions or on hot, sunny days, you should avoid strenuous outdoor activity on those days and ensure that you have access to your usual medication, such as asthma inhalers.

Children with asthma should be able to take part in games in the usual way, although they may need to increase their use of reliever medicines before participating. There is no need for them to stay away from school.

If you suffer from a heart condition and notice a change in your symptoms, you should seek medical advice as you normally would.

Air pollution alerts text service

You can receive high air pollution alerts free to your mobile phone to let you know when air pollution levels are high. Subscribe to the 'Air Aware' service by texting AIR to 67300 to receive these alerts.

Text messages to the service will be charged at your normal standard rate and alerts are received free of charge.

Air quality measurement and forecasts

Air pollution is described as 'Low (1-3)', 'Moderate (4-6)', 'High (7-9)' or 'Very High (10)' in relation to the presence of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone. The classifications were chosen on the basis of effects on health and are based on medical and scientific research.

Checking air quality in your area

You can find out more about current levels of air pollution and about air pollution, its causes and effects from the page below:

You can also listen to the latest air pollution information by dialling a freephone helpline on:

  • telephone: 0800 556677

Action you can take to reduce air pollution

To help reduce air pollution, you should:

  • avoid burning solid fuels if possible and burn only smokeless fuels in smoke control areas
  • avoid lighting bonfires, especially while pollution levels are high
  • walk or cycle rather than using your car
  • if you must drive, switch off the engine if you expect to be stationary for more than a couple of minutes, and drive smoothly - it will save you fuel and money and you will emit less pollution.
  • avoid overfilling the petrol tank and spilling petrol - this evaporates and releases hydrocarbons that are toxic and form ozone

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