What effect does air pollution have over many years?

It is now believed that the long term health effects of air pollution are larger than the short term effects. These effects happen at lower pollution levels than the short term effects, and are often not noticed by people at the time the damage is being done.

Until the 1990s, longer term health studies focused mainly on respiratory health, since the lungs are the primary gateway for pollution to enter the human body. As further findings were made, researchers began to recognise that air pollution also affects the heart.

As many more people in the UK suffer from heart and circulatory problems than lung disease, this means that poor air quality is a much bigger public health challenge than previously thought.

In 2008, the UK’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) reported that the burden of human-made particulate matter on the human population was approximately a loss of 340,000 years of life in 2008, and that this loss of life is equivalent to 29,000 deaths. The burden can also be represented as a loss of life expectancy from birth of approximately six months. More recently studies are investigating the possible link between poor air quality and outcomes such as low birth weight infants and neurologoical health.
Information on the impacts of air pollution on children has recently been reviewed by the Royal College of Physician (Feb 2016), with the report available here.

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