Air Clean Up

  • How Clean Is the Air Around Hospitals?

How Clean Is the Air Around Hospitals?

Nov 10 2018 Read 1508 Times

According to new research undertaken by the British Lung Foundation (BLF), 248 hospitals and 2,220 GP practices in the UK are located in areas where particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) levels are above the “safe” threshold as designated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Given that one in three asthma-related hospital visits come as a direct result of exposure to poor air quality, there is a real concern that the poor state of our airways all over the country is leading to a vicious cycle of hospitalisation. The research adds further fuel to calls for the government to address the problem, improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution through targeted protocols and measures.

Contaminated location

The alarming study was conducted by the BLF in conjunction with Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants (CERC), who analysed air quality levels at 9,988 NHS health centres across the UK. The most concerning results were found in England, where as many as 33% of GP practices and 25% of hospitals were located in areas which suffered from PM2.5 levels above the WHO’s recommended upper threshold of 10μg/m3.

Things were better north of the border, where just three healthcare sites suffered from dangerous levels of PM2.5 (in Aberdeen, Berwickshire and Falkirk). However, Wales also showed plenty of cause for concern; three hospitals were located in poor air quality areas, while 54 GPs are situated in contaminated zones.

A deadly pollutant

PM2.5 is so named for the tiny size of its particles; at just 2.5 nanometres in diameter, they are 10 times finer than human hair and can easily be inhaled and even absorbed into the human bloodstream. Once inside our bodies, they can cause all manner of respiratory and cardiovascular problems, including asthma, heart disease, lung cancer and strokes.

High concentrations of PM2.5 and other harmful contaminants have been the subject of debate for some time, with especial regard to the their ubiquity in and around energy facilities and other industrial sites. However, the alarming news that they are plentiful around areas devoted to improving health has come as something of a shock, especially since the study uncovered that some of Britain’s largest children’s hospitals fall inside the danger area.

Time for action is now

The publication of the research coincides with another study conducted by the George Washington University in the American capital, which found that exposure to poor quality air leads directly to between 9 and 20 million ER visits every year. When the air surrounding health centres is as equally or even polluted than elsewhere, it can fuel a vicious cycle which must be stopped.

“It can’t be right that hospital staff and GPs must care for people in environments that could worsen their symptoms and could be putting them at risk of a whole range of health problems further down the line,” said Alison Cook, policy director at the BLF. “The ball is now in the Government’s court; we want them to adopt WHO’s limit and ensure we meet it.”

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