Air Pollution May Be Invisible – But Its Effects Are Not

Air pollution is not something we think of on a daily basis, even though we may be experiencing it and its effects quite often. We probably give it a passing thought when we encounter the occasional blast of strong fumes (we all recognize the pungent, industrial taste), but that’s about it.

Even though there are usually only a few visible signs to suggest anything is wrong with the air we breathe in, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about it. Making the pollution a little more palpable could help individuals and concerned authorities alike to realize the huge problem we’re facing. That’s what this video shot in London, UK, is trying to do. Take a look below before we delve into today’s environmental news.

Breathing in the clouds of exhaust fumes they pass through could make any of the people walking to work on the London Bridge a victim of the effects of air pollution. According to the latest reports, tens of thousands of people in the UK die prematurely each year due to health issues related to air pollution. Shining the spotlight on the grave invisible poison surrounding them might spur a greater demand for action.

The Dangers of Breathing in

Another video posted recently by the Independent shows a similar scenario. Capturing a video of the urban surroundings of London with a FLIR GF343 infrared camera shined a new light on the leaks of carbon dioxide inside UK’s capital city. Exhaust fumes contain high levels of CO2 and pollutants toxic to human health. Walking on the streets of London exposes you to invisible fine particles, as well as ozone and nitrogen oxides.

Thanks to this camera experiment, however, we can effectively take a sneak peek at the hidden poison cars emit every day. In the video published by the Independent, you can see several cyclists on a cycle lane that passes a near-stationary bus. While the exhaust is on the other side, the camera reveals the fumes were rushing across the road, engulfing the cyclists. Some were wearing protective face masks, but most breathed in the toxins freely.

Both videos showed lorries and buses are by far the biggest fume emitters. However, there were some buses that seemed to emit little more than some of the cars. It’s not surprising carmakers have exploited our inability to see the exhaust fumes seeping into the air we breathe. Most modern cars have a hidden exhaust pipe, a design that keeps the problem of exhaust fumes ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Surprise, Surprise

Plenty of passersby stopped to inquire about the experiment and the news astounded them. Even a student from Beijing, the Chinese capital, was surprised to see the degree of poison emitted by urban traffic. Xian Shi, 22, a student of banking and finance, saw the infrared images and said that he didn’t expect such pollution levels in the UK’s capital.

While China is infamous for its polluted air, it seems that London isn’t that far behind. However, according to Xian Shi, London is still the smaller of two evils, as spending the winter in Beijing can take a dark turn really fast. But she wasn’t the only one taken aback by the video. Richard, 33, a pipe fitter living in South London, said the pollution levels were much higher than he would have ever thought.

 “According to that [the film], it’s quite a lot. You can’t taste it or smell it, so you just become immune to it,” he said. “Everyone needs transport to get about and not everyone can afford to change from diesel or petrol to electric [vehicles].”

The infrared discovery didn’t comes as a surprise to some. Economist Srdan Tatomir, 30, a Croatian living in Bermondsey, was one of the cyclists riding through the toxic bus fumes. However, he said the video didn’t shock him as much. He added he could feel the air pollution the most when cycling behind a bus accelerating uphill. But would the exhaust fumes make him reconsider his means of transportation? No really, even though he is quite concerned about the indirect effects of breathing in such poison on a daily basis.

Air pollution

Fighting for Change

Andreas Zinssmeister of FLIR Systems hopes their camera will open some eyes to the dangers of air pollution. The technology enables the visualization of all sorts of gasses, not just car emissions. This particular camera (GF343) could help raise awareness regarding fume levels in crowded urban areas. Commuters, in particular, would probably want to rethink their exposure to toxic fumes in busy sectors.

But there’s room for change at higher levels of authority. For instance, air pollution has recently appeared on the Government’s agenda. Sadly, other issues have higher priority status. However, this is not the first time air pollution has made it on their table. Environmental lawyers at ClientEarth have successfully sued the Government twice because its air quality strategies have failed to adhere to EU regulations.

According to a Government spokesperson, authorities are “firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions. That’s why we have committed more than £2bn since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles and support greener transport schemes.”

Meanwhile, the British Government has announced in the Autumn Statement that it was issuing an extra £290m. These funds will support low emission buses and taxis, electric vehicles, and more research on alternative fuels. Greenpeace UK is also pressuring the Government to improve its air pollution strategy by getting rid of diesel vehicles.

Air Pollution: A Real Issue

But whether we see the toxic fumes or not, they definitely have an impact on our health. Areeba Hamid, clean air defender at Greenpeace UK, knows how to spur action. He believes we would think a lot differently of the issue if we could see the air pollution surrounding us. Visualizing these toxic fumes makes the problem much more real. And suddenly, it’s not just something for the Government to handle. It’s something lurking at our bus stops, in our parks, and in the traffic line to work.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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