What You Can Do for London’s Lungs

Take a nice deep breath. For thousands of people living in London, that’s a luxury.  

FreeImages.com/Christina Papadopoullo

With its plethora of parks, our capital may be one of the greenest cities. But it’s also one of the most polluted. For the last five years, London has been in breach of EU safety limits on NO2.

I’ve noticed it getting worse. For an instant lesson in air quality, head for the outer reaches of one of the Tube lines and see how fresh the air feels when you step outside. 

Pollution isn’t just an irritant to the throat, nose, or eyes. It’s damaging to health, increasing the risk of lung cancer and chronic lung disease, and driving up hospital admission rates for those with pre-existing lung or heart disease.

FreeImages.com/Dave Kennard

Children’s lungs are most vulnerable, yet around 330,000 London kids go to school in areas with illegal levels of pollution.

Pollution has also been linked with damage during pregnancy, including low birth weight and pre-term birth.

I’ll cut a long story short: at least 9,500 deaths a year in London are linked with air pollution.

We may not have the pea-soupers of the 1950s that smothered London in soot and sulphur dioxide for days at a time. But we have a haze of small particles, especially PM2.5s, along with the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide NO(not to be confused with laughing gas because this one isn’t funny).

FreeImages.com/Simon Gray

PM2.5s are fine particles, less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. They come from things like motor vehicles, power plants, and wood-burning, and they’re harmful because they’re small enough to reach the deepest recesses of the lungs.

Nitrous oxide comes largely from diesel cars, lorries, and buses. It follows that pollution is worse near busy roads, which is often where less advantaged families live. But even short-term exposure to air pollution can damage.

Why am I banging on about it now?

Because on May 5, London elects a new Mayor. As a parent, a doctor, and a Londoner, I whole-heartedly support The British Lung Foundation’s #Londonlungs campaign. It calls for the next Mayor and Assembly members to prioritise lung health.

FreeImages.com/Andrew Rigby

So much could be done, from tree and hedge planting schemes to improving transport strategy and extending the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) eastwards – where there’s a lot of deprivation and air pollution.

You too can help by getting on board and asking all the mayoral candidates whether they pledge to protect Londoner’s lungs. You could also share the campaign on social media with the hashtag #Londonlungs.

FreeImages.com/Adam Ciesielski

What else can you do?

There are obvious individual steps to help protect the lungs and heart, like not smoking.

Driving less, for instance by sharing cars or using public transport, helps drive down vehicle emissions. If you’re buying or leasing a car, choose a low-emission model.

Take the longer route on foot or cycle via a less polluted area if you can. You may be interested in the Clean Space app

The British Lung Foundation has some great tips for when air pollution levels are very high. You can find them here

 

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Seven Days as a Novelist

Thanksgiving Day 2013 and my novel comes out after spending years getting ready. 

front cover reduced

First cover of my novel

Day One is great:  congratulations arrive on Facebook, in cards and by email.   I don’t have a launch party but I go to Women in Journalism’s Christmas bash.   Everyone can see that I’m floating about 6″ off the ground.  That’s because I’m wearing red suede heels like these.

By Day Two, I’m seeing stars in the form of my first review.  Five stars to be exact, and from an author I respect hugely.  I tell all my friends, which means I post the news on Twitter.  Writers lose their real friends because they spend all their time writing. 

On Day Three I see a neighbour who wants to know all about my book. When I explain how she can buy a copy, for instance here, I get a blank look.  She asks “What do you mean, buy?”

It’s the Primrose Hill Christmas Festival on Day Four   The place is crawling with models, writers, actors, whatever (MWA, darling).  I don’t see any celebs out and about with their noses in my novel, but I spot these supermodels in their new winter coats.

Ruff & Tumble

Monday night is Day Five.   I attend the British Lung Foundation’s Christmas Carols by Candlight at St Pancras Church.  It’s a big occasion so I’m wearing THE shoes off the cover, not a stand-in pair.   Along with Linda Robson, Tommy Walsh and David Oakes, I read a poem. By now my book and I are feeling proper festive.  

jacaranda tree

But that day my elderly mother has another fall and can’t stand up.  I catch a flight out as soon as I can.

She’s in a geriatric hospital.  Her lipstick tells me she’s still fighting but the rest of her tells a different story.  She has severe osteoporosis and has broken several more bones.  They give her morphine which barely helps her pain.  You have to work up gradually to the right dose and we’re not there yet.  

The red heels have come off.  I sit by her bed and help her drink from a drinker, the kind my children had as toddlers.

This, now, is reality.  Fiction?  That’s just escapism.  But what a welcome escape it can be.