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historic air pollution exposure and long-term health and mortality risks

Exposure to air pollution has been associated with numerous health conditions including respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, and death. However, investigating the precise impact of air pollution exposure on health outcomes is challenging, particularly when taking historic pollution levels into account. Nonetheless the subject of air pollution, especially in the UK’s major cities, is still a cause of great concern for doctors, policy makers, and the wider population.

In one of the longest-running studies of its kind, researchers from Imperial College London have investigated the possible effects of long-term air pollution exposure over nearly 40 years on various health outcomes including mortality. Published in the journal Thorax, the researchers estimated air pollution levels in England and Wales in 1971, 1981, 1991, and 2001 in a longitudinal study involving nearly 400,000 participants. Due to the changing composition of emissions from industry and transport in the UK over the decades, the researchers measured the levels of several different particulates including black smoke, SO2, and PM10.

Journalists came to the SMC to hear the authors of this study address points such as:

  • Which types of air pollution have been measured and have their levels changed over time?
  • How do current levels of air pollution compare to historic levels?
  • What impacts on health and mortality do the different pollutants appear to have?
  • Do these effects appear to change over time or accumulate?
  • What is the impact of historic air pollution exposure?
  • Is it possible to establish a causal link between these pollutants and health conditions?
  • Is it possible to estimate how many deaths can be linked to air pollution?
  • How does the UK compare to other countries on air pollution?

A Before the Headlines analysis accompanied this briefing.


Speakers will include:

Dr Anna Hansell, Reader in Environmental Epidemiology & Assistant Director of the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU), MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College London

Dr Rebecca Ghosh, Research Associate in Epidemiology, Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU), MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College London

Dr John Gulliver, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College London

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