Last Thursday was Clean Air Day; a national celebration of the beautiful fresh and pure air we welcome daily into our lungs as we trudge through towns and cities to work, sit in queues of traffic on the school-run, wend our merry way around York's* shopping streets beset with taxis of stags and hens at the weekends, or venture out onto the motorway to get away from all the above.
Sarcasm aside (rare words to leave my lips, let me tell you), air pollution is a huge threat to health and happiness. You’ll see from this little piece of advertising that it’s not only me trying to spread this week’s particular brand of green-health message; no siree! I cajoled a few A-list specialist colleagues into sharing their day-to-day observations. Best to let the experts speak, thought I, rather than rely on my usual pithy puns and witty wordplay. It’s too easy to cloud the situation with a whirlwind tour of yours truly just spouting hot air, hoping for readers to breeze through and quickly get wind of the real facts. And the facts are this: air pollution dirties every organ in your body. Been to London and seen the colour of your snot after a day on the Underground? It’s real friends, the air is filthy. If you think your lungs look nice and pink like that cute emoji, then think again.
Um, is it too late for me to soften the above devastating blow? Well let me reassure you there are plenty of people trying to improve air quality, and that starts with measuring just how bad (or good *wistfully*) things are. Addresspollution.org have a nifty tool that will tell you exactly how dire the situation is on your doorstep. Levels are given in ‘centiles’, where the 100th centile is the filthiest black air that you wouldn’t wish on even the most heinous and base members of the government. Sort of. Here’s how it works (look away now if you don’t want to know): the score outside York minster exceeds 3 World Health organisation limits. Gasp!
But, as one who basks in the ample bosom of international readership, I can hardly expect those (thousands) of you outside York to be interested in pollution levels at key landmark that pepper my daily commute. Instead, let me tempt you with young Harry Potter waking on his first day at school: having bought his wizarding supplies at Diagon Alley (the quirky York Shambles with its middling air in the 48th centile), he boards the train at Kings Cross station where the air pollution is waaay up in the 98th centile, speeding mercifully away from the smog, over the Glenfinnan Viaduct (air pollution zero!) and alighting at Hogwarts (aka Durham Cathedral – 17th centile). And if you’ve spent the last 20 years on Mars and have somehow passed by without reading Harry Potter, I’d suggest get yourself down to Waterstones at Trafalgar Square to buy a copy. But please don’t inhale, as the pollution levels there are…drum-roll please…in the 99th centile! Punchy and perilous, in one perplexing package.
But before you scroll away (tiny violin GIF), here’s what you can do to help:
1 – write to your MP. This is quick and easy if you use a template like this one, or your local councillors. It’s becoming increasingly popular to request a ‘school street’, for instance, which involves temporarily blocking the road outside a school during drop-off and pick-up, to make the walk to school less polluted. These are already in place in many towns and cities. Click on this map for a little glow of hope!
2 - Check out levels where you are: AddressPollution.org and also you can see what your local air pollution forecast is. Just as you would take care in the midday sun (she says, hopefully), the same applies to air pollution. Avoid busy roads and junctions, use back streets or quiet roads to get to school where possible, and if you have asthma or COPD then carry your reliever inhaler with you and ensure you have an up-to-date plan. Your friendly GP, nurse, or pharmacist can help you up with any queries you may have about your inhalers, and for any health professionals reading this, check out the amazing Greener Practice Asthma Toolkit.
And finally, you can enjoy soaring above the air pollution in the Yorkshire balloon fiesta later this autumn, though be warned, hot air balloon rides keep getting more expensive every year.
But I guess that’s just inflation…
*Other stag and hen city venues are available. Please God, why don't people use them???