Clean Air Day (2018)

Clean Air Day pic

Clean Air Day

We all keep hearing the words ‘Clean Air’ and ‘Clean Air Day’ being mentioned, but who really knows what it’s about?

The ITB team will hopefully be able to provide the basics and give you some advice about how you can play your part in looking after the environment.

Clean Air Day on 21 June is a chance to find out more about air pollution, share information with friends and colleagues and take action. There are different ways to get involved and a range of free resources including toolkits for schools, workplaces, communities, youth groups and more on the Clean Air Day website which also has facts and tips on reducing air pollution outside and inside the home as well as FAQs on air pollution and health and how air pollution affects children.


Did you know there are over 31 million cars on the road in the UK today? And each of these cars are driven, on average, about 12,800 km a year, amounting to an astonishing 400 billion km across the nation. That’s not all, there are also over 3.7 million vans in operation, travelling over 20,000 km each year and totalling 75 billion km every year (1).

While to some people driving is considered a necessity, as people either drive for work, commute or pleasure, it is important to understand that by using a car or van you are contributing to road traffic congestion (excess delays), physical inactivity, climate change and local noise and air pollution within our towns, cities and communities.

Air pollution is associated with a wide range of damaging effects including impacts on human health, personal satisfaction, economic performance and natural ecosystems.

What is air pollution made up from?

Air pollution comes from a range of sources, such as vehicles. The proportion of pollution that reaches us depends on the weather, the location, the time of day. Wherever you are, it is inevitable you’ll breathe in some of this pollution throughout the day.

There are lots of pollutants that cause harm but the main ones are carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide (others include ground level ozone, particulates, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons and lead). Each one of these pollutants come from a different source, and has different effects on our health.

The Global Action Plan for Clean Air suggests that motorised vehicles play a large part in increasing air pollution n and within the UK it is estimated that cars and vans are responsible for more than a quarter (£5.9 billion a year) of the total UK health damage costs from air pollution.

The health impacts

Did you know that we breathe 11,000 litres of air each day? This means the more polluted the air is, the more we breathe dangerous chemicals into our lungs.

Short-term effects include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Others include headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions. Short-term air pollution can also aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and emphysema.

The long-term health effects from exposure to air pollution include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly.

Worryingly, exposure to air pollutants from motor vehicles is linked to around 40,000 early deaths and hundreds of thousands of life-years lost in the UK each year, with an average loss per person of life expectancy of approximately six months.

Did you know the associated annual health costs of these health outcomes have been estimated at between £22.6 billion and £71.3 billion?

So how much does each car and van contribute to the above total? It is estimated that the health cost of diesel cars is £258 per year, and with petrol cars its lower at £37 a year.

How does air pollution affect children?

Children are extremely vulnerable as they tend to breathe faster than adults, and their lungs are still growing.

Buggies and prams can often put children level with car exhaust emissions, and there can also be high pollution levels inside cars in which they’re driven to school, as cars stand bumper to bumper with their engines running.

If a child breathes high levels of air pollution over a long period, they are at risk of:

  • their lungs not growing and maturing properly
  • repeated infections, coughs and wheezing
  • lung conditions like asthma getting worse

They might also be at risk of:

  • developing asthma during childhood or as an adult
  • lung cancer, heart disease, and possibly even diabetes, when they’re older

So what can we do?

In many towns and cities, monitoring equipment has been installed at many points in the city. Authorities read them regularly to check the quality of air.

Councils are working hard to improve air quality by introducing clean air zones (a region that has regulations to limit emissions of gasses such as nitrogen dioxide), which restricts vehicles known to produce high amounts of dangerous pollution. And where traffic is contributing to poor air quality, the guideline says councils could enforce congestion charges within the clean air zone.

Parents / individuals

Encourage your family to use the bus, train or bike when commuting. If we all do this, there will be fewer cars on the road and less fumes produced.

If you choose to drive then avoid leaving the engine running whilst waiting in the car. Or, why not park away from the school and walk a short distance?

Using active travel has many other health benefits besides reducing air pollution.

Travelling to school

Schools should have an individual school travel plan (STP). This sets out how school leaders and staff can encourage safe and active travel to reduce air pollution round your school.

For example school can:

  • discourage the use of cars to bring children to school, and promote cycling, scooting and walking where possible
  • find and publicise safe walking and cycling routes that avoid heavy traffic
  • identify public transport for travel to school, extracurricular activities and school trips
  • make sure there is enough parking for scooters and bikes
  • discourage parents from parking outside the school gates
  • ask parents to turn off engines at the school gates (No idling)
  • create incentives and run competitions to encourage safer travel

Grab your free Clean Air Day schools toolkit, including lesson plans for Key Stages 1-3, stickers and posters, you’ll find everything you need to inspire your students to take action on air pollution.poster

Traveling to work

Clean Air Leeds is also promoting a 5 Mile Challenge (#5MileLeeds) encouraging people to swap car journeys for more sustainable modes of transport for at least a five mile stretch of their journey on Clean Air Day.

A social media campaign is also available for download via the website, encouraging the use of #CleanAirDay on Twitter and inviting people to join the Clean Air Day event on Facebook.

For information about how Leeds is addressing the problem of air pollution in the city, the Clean Air Leeds website has information on how individuals can get involved, what Leeds City Council is doing, the Clean Air Zone, myth busters and news. Follow Clean Air Leeds on Twitter @CleanAirLeedsCC and on Facebook.

As an employer, you can help by:

  • Spreading the word: share the air pollution guidance on the following pages and at with your employees, customers and community.
  • Encouraging change: send out an employee call to ‘Leave The Car At Home’ for the day
  • Prompting people to try active travel, car sharing, or working from home.
  • Sharing best practice: inspire people, businesses and other employers to act by sharing how your organisation has successfully cut the air pollution it causes.

Work place toolkit


  1. Department of Transport (2006)

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