The air is thick with pollution, and it killing us. Whether it is through heart failure, stroke or breathing issues, around 9,000 people a year in London alone die as a result of pollution.


Air pollution’s impact on health gets worse when you look at the problem globally. Air pollution that goes well beyond World Health Organization recommendations frequently makes headlines in cities like Delhi and Beijing, and worldwide is thought to lead to as many as 4.2 million early deaths a year.

So, what can you do about it? We asked King’s College London air pollution scientist Gary Fuller his advice:


Protect yourself and your family

The first thing I would suggest is to make sure you protect yourself from any harmful emissions. If you're walking around an urban area, think about taking the backstreets, or walking through the park rather than walking through the roads.

Some of the measurements we've done suggest that you can halve your air pollution exposure by thinking about the routes you take.


Don't be part of the problem

Think about the way in which you travel around. Do you really need to drive your kids to school when it is just a kilometre down the road?

And think about the way you heat your home as well. We believe that somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent of the particle pollution that's being created in London is coming from people burning wood at home, something that's done mainly just for decorative reasons

Do London plane trees actually absorb pollution into their bark? © Alamy

Apply pressure on the government to take action

The problem of air pollution needs to be debated a lot more in the media, and people need to be communicating it to their politicians. We can't lay the responsibility for this at the door of each of us as individuals.

I have a couple who write to me each year, the husband of which has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). His wife cares for him and they moved into a flat so they could be on one level, but all of the windows open out onto a road. This means that in the summer, they are there in their hot flat with the windows closed so that his COPD isn’t exacerbated.

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There’s really nothing they can do themselves to improve the air pollution on the road outside, so a lot of the answers have to come from politicians. It has to come to government I'm afraid.


Vote with your feet

People are already voting with their feet on diesel cars. If you look back a couple of years ago before the Dieselgate scandal, around half the cars that were being bought in the UK, and more in many European countries, were diesel-powered. We're now down to about 30 per cent, so people are voting with their pockets.

That's another important thing, because you as an individual can exert pressure on the system through the things that you buy and the choices that you make.

You can listen to our full interview with Gary Fuller in the Science Focus Podcast below. Make sure you subscribe and rate it wherever you get your podcasts from.

The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat Of Air Pollution — And How We Can Fight Back by Gary Fuller is available now (£12.99 on Hive, Melville House)

The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat Of Air Pollution — And How We Can Fight Back by Gary Fuller is available now (£12.99 on Hive, Melville House)


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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.