BHF Policy - protecting the nation’s health from air pollution

Cars air pollution According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2012 there were over 11,000 estimated outdoor air pollution-related premature deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke in the UK. Since 2010, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has invested £3.2 million in research to help understand the impact of air pollution on our heart and circulatory system.

Why is air pollution an issue?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over half of all premature deaths related to air pollution globally are from heart disease and stroke

Our research has shown that high levels of air pollution can have a detrimental effect on heart health, making existing heart conditions worse and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

A recent study funded by the BHF has found that tiny particles in diesel exhausts can prevent blood vessels from relaxing and contracting properly, resulting in an increased risk of clots developing in coronary arteries, which can cause a heart attack

Two of the most common and harmful types of air pollutants for health are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM). – BHF research has identified that there is a particularly strong link between poor cardiovascular health and particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (that’s a thirtieth of the width of a strand of hair). This is known as PM2.5.

Is there a safe level of exposure to PM2.5?

The WHO says that there is no safe level of exposure to PM2.5. However, they do recommend guideline targets that limit the harm to human health.

The UK’s current legal limit for PM2.5 is not as strict as the level recommended by the WHO. With the exception of Scotland, the UK limit for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms per cubic metre, over double the WHO recommended level of 10 microgramsThis means that many vulnerable people, including those with existing cardiovascular conditions, are potentially exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.

 Action the BHF supports to address the health risks from air pollution

The BHF believes that adopting the WHO air quality guidelines into UK law is a crucial step in protecting the nation’s heart health. Having these targets in law will ensure that action to reduce air pollution will be effective in reducing the risk to people currently living with cardiovascular disease.

The BHF has highlighted our research findings on air pollution to Government. We’re calling WHO guidelines for PM2.5 to be adopted into UK law. We will continue to push for this new legislation to be introduced as soon as possible.

If you would like further information, please email us at [email protected]