We’re supporting Clean Air Day 2023 on 15th June as a chance to rethink how we travel, and to have a go at making more of our trips by walking, wheeling or public transport.

Clean Air Day

Poor air quality is a serious problem across the West Midlands, particularly in our busy urban areas. Air pollution dirties every organ in the body. 

It causes health problems for people of all ages, from prematurity and low birth weight, from congenital heart disease to childhood asthma, and chronic lung disease to heart conditions. Ultimately, it causes 18 lives to be cut short in Birmingham every week.

A graphic shows people cycling and walking with buildings and smoke behind

Cleaning up our air is good for us in many ways: it not only benefits our physical health and the environment but can also protect our mental and brain health. The physical health impacts of air pollution – such as asthma, heart disease and cancers – have been recognised for decades. More recently, researchers are beginning to understand how air pollution can affect the brain and the mind as well.

People who breathe polluted air are more likely to develop mental health and brain conditions. Being exposed to air pollution is linked to mental health and brain conditions such as depression, anxiety and dementia. When a person breathes polluted air, small pollution particles can enter through the lungs, into the blood stream and can reach the brain.

At Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, we regularly see the harm that it does to growing bodies, which are most vulnerable to the invisible toxins in the air we breathe.

Pledge with us on Clean Air Day

Everyone is encouraged to make a pledge to improve the air we all breathe. The kinds of pledges people are making include...

"On clean Air Day, I pledge...

...to walk short journeys
...to walk or cycle to school / work
...to ask local & national decision makers to make it easier for me to walk
...to give my car a day off
...to join a car club
...to switch off my engine
...to open windows and use extractor fans when cooking or using cleaning products
...to avoid using wood burning stoves and open fires
...to learn more about air pollution"

A young boy on his bike looks over and smiles at the camera

What makes our air quality poor?

Air pollution is made up of mix of toxic gases, invisible particles, chemicals and moulds. 

Our biggest problems in Birmingham and the West Midlands are linked to the gases of Nitrogen Oxides and Sulphur Dioxide, released when fossil fuels are burnt. In our cities, a significant part of this is due to petrol and diesel being used in motor vehicles. 

These vehicles also contribute to the dangerous levels of very small specks of harmful dust in the air (‘particulate matter’ or ‘PM 2.5/PM10.0’), again through the burning of fuels, but also through particles released from braking and the wear of tyres against the road.

A line of queuing traffic

The other major residential urban source of air pollution is domestic fires, including log burners and bonfires, which again release a lot of harmful chemicals and toxic particles.

We see these affects right across our city, including in the air around our hospitals. Working with the University of Birmingham, we installed air quality monitors as part of a network of sensors right across the city, exploring how the air we breathe changes on a daily basis. 

You can data for our Children's Hospital and our Women's Hospital on the Birmingham Urban Observatory, and you can even download the data if you want to have a closer look.

How transport pollution affects our planet and future

As well as the local harms caused by these emissions, the way we travel also has a big impact on our carbon footprint. Transport is responsible for about a third of an average UK family’s carbon footprint and is a major contributor to climate change.

In our Green Plan, we’ve recognised the part Birmingham Women’s and Children’s has to play in achieving net zero carbon fast enough to prevent overwhelming harm to our planet.

The NHS is responsible for about 4% of all journeys in the UK. We estimate that the carbon dioxide produced by patient, visitor, staff and work-related journeys, our Trust is responsible for about 6,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the same as 2,400 family homes, every year.

What needs to change?

We need to change how we travel. More and more people live, work and travel around Birmingham, and whilst some private car journeys may be essential, the impacts of increasing congestion, noise, pollution and road danger on local communities is obvious, and even if we could all afford electric vehicles, they can’t fix this on their own. 

Over 40% of journeys in the West Midlands are under 2 miles, and with a growing walking, cycling and public transport network, many of us have healthier, happier and more sustainable choices in how we travel, that could also save us money on the costs of keeping and running private cars.

A metro waits outside Birmingham library

How we’re taking action

We’re supporting our own staff and visitors to make a change. 

This summer, we will have new public cycle parking opening at both our Children’s and Women’s Hospitals, and an active travel changing area at our city centre site. We're also increasing the range of advice on the high-quality public transport routes to each of our sites.

We have a wide range of offers available to staff, from discounted bus, train and tram tickets, to cycle hire and purchase schemes, alongside discounts on electric vehicle purchases. 

As an organisation, we’ve switched how we move our own materials between sites to an electric van. Over the next twelve months, we’ll be looking at how we might be able to use cargo bikes to go further with a lighter footprint and less pollution, as well as how we can offer appointments in ways that mean people don’t have to travel so far, and how we make it easier for you to get to us.  

The NHS is also working with our suppliers to see how we can reduce the carbon and air pollution linked to the things we use.

More information

Find out more about Clean Air Day, including easy read information on how poor air quality affects your health

Read our green plan, and discover how we're taking action to be more planet-friendly

Get advice on how to prepare, and what to do, when air quality is poor