Air pollution - what is it and what can we do about it?

You may have heard the term ‘Air Pollution’ in the news but many of us don’t know what causes it, where it happens and how dangerous it can be.

Some facts about air pollution

You could be forgiven for thinking this is just a problem for big cities like London but towns in Northern Ireland have also been hitting the headlines in recent years for unsafe levels of pollutants in our air.

What causes air pollution?

Our air becomes polluted when it contains harmful levels of gases, dust, fumes and odour. These can come from a number of different sources, for example, the production of energy, heating our homes and transport. In fact, greenhouse gases from transport in NI have increased by 26% in recent years with the majority of these emissions coming from cars. This is why there have been so many efforts and resources dedicated to finding cleaner alternatives to the fuels we use.  

How does it affect us?

Well, unsurprisingly, air pollution has negative impacts on human health. This can range from mild breathing problems to serious health issues and in some cases even death. This is why the government is treating air pollution as a serious health threat and working hard with us all to reduce the emissions we produce.

Those most vulnerable to air pollution are children and people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma. Although short spells of air pollution pose a minimal threat, long periods of exposure can be dangerous. Certain weather, such as still cold conditions, can also add to the problem by trapping air close to the ground and allowing pollutants to build up.

What can we do to help?

Luckily, there are easy ways to prevent air pollution. These can be as easy as reducing the amount of energy we use. Switch off lights, turn down the thermostat, use energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. Most of this may seem like common sense, but it’s the small things we forget to do on a daily basis that could make a difference.

Transport is one of the major causes of air pollution, so if we want to reduce our contribution we need to think of our travel habits. Start to consider whether shorter journeys can be walked or cycled or if public transport is an option. Even taking a train or bus to work once a week could help.

As technology advances, the easier it will be for us to be less reliant on burning fossil fuels. If you’re ready to make a bigger commitment now you could install solar panels in your home or even switch to an electric car.  The best thing about these changes is that they could even end up saving you money in the long run!

Check the air quality in your area

What do you think?