Public Health: Role for Public Health Professionals

Role for Public Health Professionals: Public Health professionals are well placed to work with local communities and front line professionals to raise awareness of the health impact of poor air quality, support measures to reduce pollution and encourage lifestyle adaptations to reduce the risk to individuals and to their families, for example through advice on selecting walking routes away from the most polluted streets and information about air pollution messaging services such as AirText in London or AirAlert in the South East.

 Public Health professionals can also help to:

  • explain to their local population the long term impacts of air pollution on health;
  • communicate short term air pollution episodes with the public and tailor messages to target those members of the public particularly susceptible to air pollution;
  • raise understanding that improving air quality would help to improve healthy life expectancy and reduce early death from cardio-respiratory diseases;
  • work with others to promote initiatives to facilitate active travel (for example Healthy Schools Programmes, school travel plans; cycle to work schemes etc; 
  • raise awareness of the need to improve air quality through linking to other public health issues such as obesity and through working with Health and Wellbeing Boards to include air quality in Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Health and Wellbeing Strategies; and
  • engage the media to provide credible briefings to spread awareness.

The Defra and Public Health England Briefing for Directors of Public Health (Air Pollution) toolkit helps to provide strategies for communicating air quality impacts to the public. Six principles have been identified which will help improve the understanding of air pollution issues and ensure people are aware of how they can protect themselves from health impacts. Air quality issues should be tailored to specific local areas to make the problems relatable. Public health professionals can help local authorities disseminate the local air quality issues amongst local stakeholders.

There are many benefits from local action to control air pollution: Active travel, such as walking and cycling, has the health benefit of increased fitness and helps reduce obesity and cardio vascular disease. The black carbon (soot) component of fine particulate matter makes a significant contribution to climate change. In addition, the soiling effect of PM may create a public nuisance, degrade materials and affect property and amenity value. Indirectly, actions taken to reduce pollutant concentrations lead to improved quality of life and the enhancement of the natural environment.

Air Pollution forecasting: As an additional measure, providing early warning of elevated pollutant concentrations allows individuals that might be particularly vulnerable to the short-term effects of air pollution (e.g. asthmatics or those with pre-existing lung or heart conditions) to be alerted so that they can reduce strenuous activity outdoors.  Such alerts can also help to anticipate increased demand for medical services.  Public information services and pollution forecasts are provided throughout the UK and for some local areas. Public Health professionals can also help local authorities in promoting actions to improve air quality by highlighting the health impact of poor air quality in their local areas, in order to further assist with the aim of changing behaviour.

Further Information 

UK Compliance Study Action Plans 

Air Pollution in the UK 2015