Monday, July 26, 2004

Air pollution and health

I've been running, and contributing to, this debate on spiked. Just when you think it's going to be a rational debate which understands that air pollution is a problem, but much smaller than it used to be and limited to vulnerable individuals, along come those who want to exaggerate it...

Anyway, I particularly liked this contribution from Sandy Starr:

As a child growing up in the Swiss Prealps, I came to suffer from severe asthma that still afflicts me to this day. But since I moved to the UK eight years ago, and particularly since I moved to central London five years ago, my breathing has significantly improved. It's nice to be able to run to catch a bus, without hopelessly gasping for breath afterward. It's even nicer to have the choice to catch a bus, or to employ various other modes of transport, to explore the variety and bustle of the capital - rather than being stuck up a picturesque but rather dull mountain.

According to Tony Juniper, 'nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon monoxide aggravate respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and eye, nose and throat irritations'. That may be so, but in my case, it is the flora, fauna, and associated allergens of the Swiss mountains that tend to induce the symptoms that Juniper describes. Whenever I return to visit my family in Switzerland, I find myself coughing and wheezing within a day. Consequently, I have to restrict my visits there to a week at most, before returning to convalesce amid the bracing airs of London.

Debates about air pollution tend to revolve around a false counterposition between the foul metropolis and the rural idyll. This is inaccurate in medical terms - the natural world generates irritants that can easily compete with those generated by transport and industry, as my example illustrates. And this is inaccurate in broader social terms - the convenience of motorised transport and urban living is at least as legitimate a contribution to our quality of life as the purported health benefits of cleaner air.

spiked-health debates Air pollution and health


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