Girl walking down an urban street

Air pollution

photo of Manchester from the air with haze over the city

Why we need cleaner air

We all want to know our air is clean and healthy. But too many of us in the UK breathe dirty air every day, especially in our towns and cities. Air pollution is a hidden killer and can lead to heart disease and even lung cancer.

Find out what causes air pollution, and what our leaders need to do to clean up our air and protect the most vulnerable.

photo of Manchester from the air with haze over the city

Air pollution facts and figures

up to
premature deaths a year are linked with air pollution in the UK
schools in areas double World Health Organisation guidelines for nitrogen dioxide or PM2.5, or both
more electric vehicles were registered in the UK, compared to last year
£20 billion
how much air pollution costs the UK economy every year
photo of cars, pedestrian and cyclists at night

What causes air pollution?

The biggest problem for air pollution is road traffic.

Road transport is the major source of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air we breathe, and responsible for up to 80% at the roadside, where the illegal problem is .

Tiny particles, known as particulate matter (PMs), that find their way deep into our lungs and some of them in to our bloodstream and from there to our organs come from a range of sources. But road traffic is a key source, including from brake and tyre wear from all vehicles, even clean or Electric Vehicles.

We must tackle all air pollution at source. For transport, this means getting the most polluting vehicles off the road and reducing road traffic.

photo of cars, pedestrian and cyclists at night

What are the types of air pollution?

We’re most concerned about three types of air pollutant that cause environmental and health problems:


illustration of particulate matter


Particulate matter (PMs). The most dangerous tiny particles of air pollution worsen heart and lung disease.

illustration of nitrogen dioxide structure


Nitrogen dioxide (NO2). High levels of NO2 can cause a flare-up of asthma or symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing.

illustration of ozone structure


Ground level ozone (O3). Ground level ozone can irritates the eyes, nose and throat.

Air pollution hotspots in England and Wales

Enter your postcode to see what’s going on in your area.

If you’re keen to work on improving air pollution where you live, see if there’s a group you can join in your area.

Male cyclist wearing helmet in street putting on anti-pollution mask .

Action on air pollution

We need more action from government and local authorities to clean up our air. Our leaders must:

  • Introduce stronger targets than the government plan in the Environment Act for dangerous fine particles.
  • Set targets to cut car traffic by at least 20% by 2030, for climate and air pollution reasons.
  • Invest much more in public transport, and in safe cycling and walking.
  • Halt massive road building plans which would just add to traffic and pollution.
  • Drive a national scrappage scheme to help people shift to clean vehicles and greener travel.
  • Invest and build more electric vehicles charging points.
  • Introduce more Clean Air Zones to restrict the dirtiest vehicles from our towns and cities.
Male cyclist wearing helmet in street putting on anti-pollution mask .
Sun beating down

What does the heat do to air quality?

Hot and sunny weather can lead to increased air pollution in a number of ways, from boosting ground level ozone pollution to increasing the risk of harmful pollutants from wildfires.

High levels of ozone pollution, which are increased when more sunlight reacts with vehicle emissions, can:

  • irritate and inflame the lungs,
  • irritate the eyes, nose and throat,
  • cause coughs,
  • make breathing difficulties worse in sensitive people such as asthmatics.

High pressure weather systems, bringing hot and sunny conditions can lead to stagnant air and a cocktail of pollutants getting stuck at ground level. Pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, the toxic gas that inflames the lining of the lungs, and dangerous fine particulate matter that can get deep into our lungs and from there even into our bloodstream and organs.

Sun beating down