Pollution has higher impact in deprived areas

Pollution tends to cause most harm to people in more socially deprived groups, according to University scientists.

Sources and higher concentrations of air, light and noise pollution are typically found in more socially disadvantaged areas, research showed.

Edinburgh researchers’ findings have been included in a report from England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor Dame Sally Davies, which highlights the dangers of everyday pollution.

The CMO’s annual report says pollution is driving chronic sickness and must be recognised as a health risk.


Cars are a common source of air pollution.
Cars are a common source of air pollution. Credit: Getty Images

The links between unequal patterns of pollution exposure and health inequalities are complex, Edinburgh scientists found.

Poor health status, unhealthy behaviours, multiple environmental exposures and mental stress are more prevalent in lower socioeconomic groups.

These factors may mean that pollution exposure has a greater impact on the health of those affected, a so-called triple jeopardy effect.

Positive steps

Researchers suggest that the link between pollution and health inequalities might be tackled by targeting hotspots of pollution, backing community involvement in monitoring and mitigating pollution, or assessing the impacts of policies behind decision-making.

The Chief Medical Officer’s report calls for the NHS, as one of the world’s biggest employers, to help lead the way in cutting the public’s exposure to a mix of air, light and noise pollution.

Professor Davies says the harm caused by pollution often hits hardest in the most vulnerable communities, and surveillance must be increased to better understand the potential risks of all forms of pollution.

Exposure risks

Pollution-related health inequalities exist for various reasons, according to the report.

Pollution sources can be concentrated in particular areas, and pollution can accumulate and disperse unevenly. Some people can be more susceptible to the health effects of being exposed to pollution than others.

This report highlights the mixture of pollution types that many of us face every day, and brings into focus the particular risk for people in socially disadvantaged areas. These findings should help inform measures to tackle this, and the health inequalities that result.

Professor Jamie PearceCentre for Research on Environment, Society & Health, School of GeoSciences

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