Air pollution poses a serious threat to public health. According to a recent study conducted by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), 44 out of 51 U.K. cities and towns, including London, have unsafe levels of airborne particulate matter. Unfortunately, exposure to this heavily polluted air contributes to a myriad of diseases and illnesses.

Respiratory Illness

Respiratory illness is often attributed to air pollution. As explained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to airborne particulate matter — soot, smoke, car emissions, etc. — triggers an inflammatory response in the respiratory system. And when a person’s airways become inflamed, it can cause coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and asthma.

Children are particularly susceptible to harmful effects if air pollution because their lungs and other organs are still developing. As particulate matter makes its way into a child’s lungs, it restricts the growth of new tissue while subsequently making the child vulnerable to chronic respiratory conditions like asthma.

Cancer

Medical experts also believe that individuals who are exposed to air pollution have a higher risk of lung cancer than their counterparts who are exposed to clear air. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially listed air pollution as a carcinogen in 2013. WHO researchers further warned that rates of bladder and lung cancer will continue to rise unless the world responds to the growing problems of air pollution.

Heart Disease

The health concerns of air pollution don’t end there. Because of its inflammatory and oxidative effects, medical experts say exposure to air pollution places individuals at risk for heart disease. On its website, WHO says 27 percent of all heart disease deaths are attributed to this invisible killer. Being that coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United Kingdom, this shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What the Public Can Do

While the statistics mentioned above are alarming to say the least, everyone has the power to turn these numbers around and create a cleaner environment. Carpooling or cycling to work, for instance, will reduce emissions. Even turning off the lights and other electronic devices can reduce air pollution caused by coal-burning power plants. The bottom line is that everyone should do their part to create a cleaner environment.