People on lowest incomes breathe most polluted air

Paula Dunster with her son

New research from Friends of the Earth, released by Healthy Air Cymru on Clean Air Day (15 June 2022), indicates people on the lowest incomes in Wales are breathing in the most polluted air.

30 Senedd Members from all political parties came to an event at the Senedd on Tuesday (14 June 2022) to renew their calls to bring forward clean air legislation and introduce ambitious air quality targets.

Friends of the Earth identified all the Welsh neighbourhoods that are breaching the WHO 2021 recommended limits for nitrogen oxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

The Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD), plus further data on car ownership, ethnicity, child population and schools, were compared to the level of air pollution in Welsh neighbourhoods.

Income deprived areas, as defined by the WIMD, disproportionally had the worst air pollution, while people of colour are 2.5 times more likely to live in an area with high particulate pollution, and 5 times more likely to live in a NO2 polluted neighbourhood.

Households in neighbourhoods with the worst air pollution are also less likely to own a car than those in the least polluted areas who are disproportionately causing air pollution by using their cars.

Paula Dunster, a mum from Cardiff feels air pollution data should be more visible in communities so people can make informative decisions on travel.

“On the school run we have to walk part of the A48 on to Llanederyn Road. It’s incredibly busy, and the school is very close to the roundabout. I do worry about the effects of air pollution, especially as my children are still very young.

“I’m actively involved with Mother’s Climate Action Network but not everyone is aware of the dangers of toxic air. Unless the data is visible to all, air pollution can be easily ignored. One day, we showed a mum at the school how high the air pollution was, and it concerned her so much, she now walks to the school every day.”

Joseph Carter, Chair of Healthy Air Cymru and Asthma + Lung UK Cymru, said:

“This new research is shocking but not surprising. Everyone has the right to breathe healthy air. It should have nothing to do with where we live, how much money we earn, our ethnic background or anything else.“Air pollution seriously damages our lungs and is putting our health at risk6. To save lives, and protect our health and the environment, we must have a Clean Air Act for Wales7 as soon as possible.”

Haf Elgar, Vice-Chair of Healthy Air Cymru and Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said:

“Air pollution is bad for our health and our planet. This new research drums home what many of us have long suspected – it is also a social justice and equality issue, affecting the most vulnerable in our society the most, who are often doing the least to cause air pollution. If Wales wants to be a fair and just nation, as well as a green one, we must clean up our act now.” 

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