Clean Air Day 2022: Air pollution impacts every organ in the body

  • For the first time the weight of scientific evidence has come together to confirm that air pollution affects every organ in the body.
  • Contrary to this evidence, when asked most Brits are not aware of the broad health impacts caused by air pollution.
  • The co-ordinators of Clean Air Day, Global Action Plan, want to ensure that the public know that there are actions they can take to decrease both air pollution and its negative health impacts.


The evidence base behind Clean Air Day, the UK’s largest campaign on air pollution by Global Action Plan, today reveals the weight of scientific evidence has strengthened, thereby allowing the organisation to publicly confirm for the first time that air pollution can impact every organ in the body.

The relationship between air pollution and our health has been studied for decades. However, 2022 is the first year Global Action Plan’s review of the evidence base, which is approved by a number of expert bodies[*], has been able to confirm that air pollution can have health impacts on every major organ in the body, can shorten our lives, contribute towards chronic illness and put us more at risk from COVID-19. When we breathe polluted air, it can inflame the lining of our lungs, moving into our bloodstream ending up in the heart and brain, causing lung disease, heart disease, dementia, strokes, and cancer. 


As part of Global Action Plan’s ongoing measurement of public attitudes and behaviours around air pollution in partnership with Opinium, survey data (conducted in June 2022) shows the lack of public awareness on the extent of the health impacts of air pollution. Poor air quality dirties every organ in the body, but Brits only connect it with lung related health issues.


  • Nearly half (49%) of people think air pollution is connected to worsening of asthma symptoms and 46% to development of asthma.
  • 44% also rightly connect it to poor lung function development, 42% bronchitis, and 35% lung cancer.
  • Only 12% of Brits associate it with strokes, 10% with dementia, and 18% poor brain development.


While public understanding on the health impacts of air pollution is imperative, it is also important that people understand there are actions they can take to decrease air pollution.


Global Action Plan’s Clean Air Day campaign explains the health impacts, but also showcases the simple steps we can all take to reduce the air pollution we cause and the positive impact that taking action will have for us and our wider community. Whilst these actions are important to give people the agency to tackle air pollution, the campaign also recognises the crucial role that decision makers play in creating clean air communities for all.


In line with the evidence and this year’s Clean Air Day theme “Air pollution dirties every organ in your body. Take steps to improve your health and the planet this Clean Air Day”, Global Action Plan is promoting the primary action of walking for shorter journeys, for those who can. A quarter (25%) of journeys in England are under one mile, so for those who are able, swapping the car to walk can make a difference. The charity has also launched its first ever Clean Air Day Walking Playlist and walking toolkit to motivate Brits whilst out walking.


The key actions for Clean Air Day 2022 include:

  • Talking to someone about the harms of air pollution.
  • Walking those short distance trips and leaving the car at home, where you can.
  • Asking local and national decision makers to make it easier to walk more and have clean air in your community. 


The public can also access free resources on the Clean Air Day website, learn more about air pollution on the Clean Air Hub and calculate their air pollution footprint with suggested actions to reduce it using the Air Pollution Calculator. Ahead of Clean Air Day, Global Action Plan has also launched a free healthcare tool, in partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim and Newcastle Hospitals, designed to help NHS leaders tackle air pollution.


Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan says: “Air pollution puts the health of our whole body at risk, it is beyond just a lung health issue. With a growing evidence base, we are able to talk even more clearly about the health harms that air pollution causes for everyone, not just those who are vulnerable. But we want the public to know that there is hope – simple actions do have a positive impact on our health and our communities. By asking those who can, to ditch the car for short journeys this Clean Air Day, we hope to inspire and normalise walking and cycling for short trips. Not only will walking reduce your air pollution footprint and exposure, it is also the healthiest and cheapest way to get around. But it’s not always easy, so we also want people to ask local decision makers to make it easier for them to walk more and have cleaner air in their community.”


Dr Karen Exley, UK Health Security Agency says: “Air pollution damages our health in a number of different ways and even shortens our life expectancy. Our understanding of the effects of pollution is increasing all the time and improving the quality of the air we breathe in could prevent thousands of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases over the next two decades. We must all make it a priority to reduce air pollution. Every one of us has a shared responsibility to take action and campaigns like Clean Air Day demonstrate how every action has a positive impact.’’


Professor Stephen Holgate, Air Quality Expert, says: “Even though we can’t see it, air pollution impacts our health from our first breath to our last. When we breathe polluted air, it can inflame the lining of our lungs and get into our bloodstream ending up in the heart and brain. It is the biggest environmental threat to our health, no matter who you are or where you live, as air pollution is toxic right down to zero. This growing body of evidence, however harrowing, provides an opportunity to showcase the health impact air pollution has on all of us. I hope this latest analysis highlights the need to act urgently – air pollution is a public health crisis.”


Professor Frank Kelly, Air Quality Expert, says: “The health and planetary impacts of air pollution and where you are most exposed to poor air quality is still widely misunderstood by the public. Analysis like this, as well as public campaigns like Clean Air Day are imperative to raising awareness and further system level change. We need bolder clean air policies and regulation.”


[*] Including: Professor Sir Stephen Holgate CBE, UKRI Clean Air Champion and Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton; Professor Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine at Queen Mary University of London; and Dr Benjamin Barratt, Deputy Director of the Environmental Research Group at Imperial College London