Protecting yourself and your family from air pollution

Air pollution affects everyone differently, so the precautions you take will vary.

If the forecast suggests high levels of air pollution, and you think you are vulnerable, it can be sensible to take action to reduce the chances of you having problems.

  • Avoid areas likely to have the worst pollution; for example, avoid main roads and congested junctions, perhaps taking a slight detour to walk through a park or along quieter back streets.
  • Walk away from the road so you’re further from polluting exhausts.
  • Change the times you travel to avoid the busiest parts of the day.
  • You may find air quality is better at certain times of day – look at your local air quality monitoring station if there is one. For example, ozone levels may be lower in the morning.
  • Reduce the amount of physical activity you take outside.
  • If you use a reliever inhaler, check you have it with you. Make sure you use all your preventative medication.
  • Seek medical advice as usual if you feel unwell.

A car exhaust showing visible emissions

Change is needed

Of course, preventing dangerously poor air quality is better than needing to take drastic action when air quality is particularly bad.

There are lots of sources of air pollution, but each of us makes decisions every day that affect the air we breathe.

You can do your bit to improve air quality by;

  • Reducing the amount you drive. Private motor vehicles are a very significant source of pollutants. The Clean Air Zone in Birmingham has made a start, but even a fully electric vehicle emits large amounts of harmful particles from its brakes, tyres and road surface wear. Walking, cycling and using public transport all have really positive effects on improving air quality.
  • Stop burning wood at home. Domestic wood burning (open fires, and log burning stoves including clean certified brands) together emit three times the levels of particulate matter as road transport. There’s increasing evidence that these are not only bad for your neighbourhood, but also increase levels of particulate matter within your home, particularly if you’re adding fuel after the fire has been initially lit.

Air quality is also affected by farming methods. Whilst Birmingham may be some distance from the most intense agricultural areas, pollution can travel many miles in the air, and we see pollution spikes linked to farming emissions. Supporting methods of farming that use less polluting chemicals, and produce less emissions, can make a difference.

A log burning stove with the fire lit

You can read more about the sources of common pollutants on the DEFRA website.

If you’re interested in seeing what air quality is like at present, both our hospital sites have air quality monitors, with data accessible from the Birmingham Urban Observatory.