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Tonight: The Air We Breathe

When you think of air pollution you may imagine smog filled cities from bygone times, but today our air quality has reached dangerous levels. Much of this pollution is from the dash for diesel and it’s now landed our Government in court.

Tonight Fiona Foster investigates why levels are so high and what’s being done to protect the nation’s health from the air we breathe.

Fiona Foster investigates air quality for the Tonight programme Credit: ITV / Tonight

Today our skies may appear cleaner than ever but in reality we are breathing in more harmful pollutants than we realise. And if you live in a big town or city, the quality of air can be so poisonous that it’s sending thousands of Britons to an early grave each year. The reason? Tiny invisible particulates and gases such as nitrogen dioxide that don’t darken our skies but leave a huge cloud over the nation’s health…

And where’s it all coming from? Well the main culprit pumping out these pollutants are lining the streets and motorways up and down the land is the diesel vehicle. Diesel produces fewer C02 emissions than petrol - so is contributing less to climate change. However, diesel vehicles can produce 22 times the amount of microscopic Particulate Matter and 4 times the amount of Nitrogen Dioxide – both a big concern for health as they can damage lungs and blood vessels and are a cause of heart disease and strokes.

A young man campaigns for clean air Credit: ITV / Tonight

And in East London, parents concerned about the effects of air pollution on their children’s health are out campaigning to raise awareness of this little known public health crisis. Leading the campaign is mum of three Shazia Ali-Webber who noticed effects to her family's health when they moved from the Midlands to East London. She decided to find out just how bad levels in her area were by using tubes to capture the nitrogen dioxide in the air. Upon seeing how bad the levels were Shazia took to the streets to raise awareness and even included getting London based music group Navan to write a campaign song for school children to sing.

Shazia Ali-Webber and family Credit: ITV / Tonight

But just how at risk are you and your family up and down the country? We asked Professor Frank Kelly of King’s College London if he could help us find out levels of pollution with 4 willing volunteers around the UK. The 3 volunteers along with presenter Fiona Foster each carried a personal air quality measuring device with them for a 48 hour period. Manchester Cyclist Andy, Full time nurse and mum of three Davida from Wolverhampton, Leeds DJ Connor and our very own Fiona Foster, who is London based, get their pollution results back with some very intriguing results.

Tonight's squad of pollution measuring volunteers Credit: ITV / Tonight

Dr Jennifer Quint is a respiratory specialist from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and University College London NHS foundation. Dr Quint is heavily involved in studying the relationship between health and air pollution.

Over the past few years there have been a number of observational studies done both in this country and abroad which is suggested that people who are exposed to high levels of air pollution are at increased risk of death... that they are at increased risk of having heart attacks and strokes and that they are at increased risk of developing certain respiratory diseases such as COPD.”

– Dr Jennifer Quint

So concerned about the affect on our nation's health Lawyer Alan Andrew, with Green law firm Client Earth, have brought a landmark case against our Government in a bid to force down levels of dirty air. On 29th April this year, in a unanimous decision, the UK Supreme Court has ordered the government to deliver plans to tackle air pollution by the end of the year.

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