Environmental Injustice | It’s Closer to Home than We Think
Pollution is one of the most rapidly intensifying public health issue confronting our planet. It contaminates the world through its multiple forms and jeopardizes the health of a huge number of people. In 2015, pollution exposure was responsible for 16% of the worldwide deaths that year. As seen by our blogs , some of the most notorious and critical pollution hot-spots are “elsewhere” overseas. However, unbeknownst to many, people are also frequently exposed to unsafe pollution levels, right here in the United Kingdom. Whilst the levels of airborne pollution in the UK may not be as staggeringly high as other contaminated sites across the globe, the World Health Organisation estimates that only 1 in 10 people in the UK live in areas that are within Air Quality Guideline limits. On top of this, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the daily pollution exposure of people in the UK is causing an increase in non-communicable diseases.
The list of diseases that have been associated with common exposure to air pollution is extensive, ranging from cardiovascular disease and stroke to pulmonary disease and lung cancer. There has been a substantial amount of research exploring the associations between exposure to air pollution and non-communicable disease, with studies showing that exposure to air pollution can affect multiple biological functions such as disrupting the inflammation pathway, increasing oxidative stress, changing heart/pulse rates and affecting the way our blood coagulates.
Organisations such as the UK National Air Quality Standard (UKNAQS) monitor the contaminants present in the whole of the United Kingdom. The pollutants that are monitored include carbon monoxide, NO2, SO2, PM10, lead, benzene and 1,3 butadiene. It is notable that the volume of these pollutants increases around large cities such as Greater London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. These cities also have higher proportions of non-communicable disease, as well as higher proportions of lower-income families and minority groups. Hence, these correlations come with risks of environmental injustice.
In this context, environmental inequality include the exposure by vulnerable communities being more likely to be exposed to higher pollution levels. The people who have been found to be the most susceptible to the negative health effects of pollution are low-income families, people of an ethnic minority and children. Studies have reported that these groups of people are often disproportionately exposed to pollution and are more likely to suffer the negative health consequences. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that 92% of the global pollution-related deaths in 2015 occurred in low income areas. Often, these people are not in a position where moving away from the source of pollution is possible. Statistics like this are simply unacceptable and it is unjust to allow vulnerable members of society to suffer the most. Hence, it is important that this inequality be addressed when countering the negative health effects of pollution exposure in the UK.
In my third year studies at the University of Birmingham, I decidedly focus on tackling environmental injustice in the UK by proposing public health interventions using “precision toxicology”. Using these methodologies, the dangerous exogenous compounds in the atmosphere can be identified. With this knowledge, it should be possible to raise awareness of the harmful nature of these compounds and alter pollution pathways to potentially remove these compounds from the atmosphere and correspondingly improve public health.
Pollution is affecting the most vulnerable communities around the globe. Should you choose to help resolve this injustice, sign-up below!