• “I fight for clean air, because I want all children across the U.K., no matter where they live to grow up healthily and happy. Air pollution has been shown to result in stunted lung growth in children, cause cancer, diabetes, respiratory illnesses and has even been linked to mental health issues in teenagers. That is just wrong. Breathing is the most essential for all of us, but in our current set-up with a high reliance on cars and enjoying comforting but often unnecessary wood burning, the air millions of us breathe – is not actually safe to breathe."

More than 6 million people are estimated to die each year from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and respiratory diseases that result from exposure to air pollution. That’s more than the deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

People with lung diseases like COPD are especially vulnerable to air pollution. (Photo via Getty Images)

Research suggests that long-term exposure to some types of pollution increases the risk of emphysema even more than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. And recent studies show air pollution can impact mental health, worker productivity and even stock market performance.

Children, the elderly and people with existing diseases are even more susceptible to harm from breathing unhealthy air. Low-wealth communities and communities of color often experience higher exposure to air pollution and bear a greater burden of the health and economic impacts.

Young children whose lungs are still developing are vulnerable to air pollution.

Your postal code can impact your health

A recent EDF study saw this phenomena first hand in the Houston area. Many of the communities that are plagued by high pollution levels are also home to people of color, individuals facing chronic illnesses and residents who struggle financially.

Clusters of metal recyclers and concrete processing plants occupy parts of the city’s Fifth Ward, where our study found NO2 levels 48% higher than the rest of the city. More than 90% of the residents of Fifth Ward are people of color, and 40% live below the federal poverty line. They face higher rates of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary heart disease and stroke. Life expectancy is nearly a decade lower than the rest of the region (69 years compared to 78 years).


Residents of River Oaks, by contrast, have no major industrial sources in their community and enjoy lower levels of pollution. Its largely white population is one of the wealthiest in the area, and its residents have less asthma, COPD and fewer strokes than the area average. They also live longer (85 years) than their regional counterparts.

Learn more about EDF’s clean air work in Houston, Texas including our partners, research methodology and advocacy efforts.

Health Impact Assessments

Knowing how air pollution harms health is critical. We also need to be able to pinpoint where and how people are most affected. For this, tools known as health impact assessments (HIAs) help incorporate and weigh public health in decision making.

Boy wearing a face mask stands on bridge above freeway with heavy traffic and polluted skies.

Combining air quality data with information on the health effects of pollutants, demographics and health status reveals how air pollution’s impacts differ across communities. These types of studies also demonstrate the benefits of action. HIAs shine a light on air pollution’s disproportionate impact on neighborhoods where pollution exposure adds to the health burden resulting from poverty and racial or ethnic discrimination.

Learn more about how air pollution harms our health and the key pollutants EDF is tackling, like particulate matter, black carbon, ozone, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.