As a personal trainer in London, I take an interest in all things which affect people’s health, and the quality of the air we breathe has a major impact on our health and wellbeing.
Last week, Channel 4 Dispatches focused on diesel fuel in its special report: The Great Car Con. Under the New Labour government there was a rush to encourage a switch to diesel, on the basis that diesel is lower in C02 emissions. However, this policy overlooked the fact that diesel is 22 times higher in particulates (soot and other particles) than ordinary fuel, and over 3 times the EU maximum limits for emission of N02, nitrogen dioxide.
London mayor Boris Johnson described the policy of encouraging diesel vehicles as a “massive failure of public policy.” He is backing a policy of Ultra Low Emission Zones in parts of London, where high-emission cars get charged a fee along the lines of the congestion charge, only it’s operational 24 hours a day.
What are the health risks of these emissions? Professor Frank Kelly of Kings College London, a leading government scientist, explained that particulates raise your risk for certain cancers. Nitrogen dioxide emissions are linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. In children there is also the increased risk of stunted lung development.
All major roads in east London are in breach of EU nitrogen dioxide limits, and experts agree that this part of London is unlikely to comply with safe limits for another 15 years.
Clean air campaigner and Hackney parent Shazia Ali-Webber is the founder of campaign group I Like Clean Air. As a mother to school-kids, she’s concerned about the air we breathe, and wants her family to grow up in a healthy environment.
Shazia has challenged Transport for London to make all buses in Hackney Central switch to diesel/electric hybrid, which emit a quarter of particulates and nitrogen dioxide compared to standard diesel buses. In the spring of 2014 she contacted Client Earth, an environmental law group, who supplied her with diffusion tubes to measure NO2 emissions in school playgrounds in Hackney.
The biggest air-pollution pressure group in London is the Campaign for Clean Air. In collaboration with Kings College London, it is monitoring NO2 levels throughout London by way of an interactive digital map, updated regularly, and posted on social media.
What can you do to reduce your exposure to polluted air? The biggest thing you can do, if you have a diesel vehicle, is to get rid of it asap. Your exposure to NO2 is at its greatest when you’re in a diesel car, as the concentration of fumes builds up invisibly inside the car. In the years to come, it is almost certain that there will be financial penalties for driving a diesel in London.
Even if you are exposed to air pollution, there’s a lot you can do to mitigate its effects. Drink plenty of water each day, to help the body flush out the toxins. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, to enable your body’s immune system and other detox-systems to function optimally. Eating more foods rich in the B vitamins (eggs, liver, broccoli, spinach, salmon, black-eye peas) are also a great way to help your body detoxify and expel air-pollutants.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London with over 12 years’ experience.