Air Pollution and Human Health

Our focus is understanding the interactions between exposure to air pollutants and health – from a cellular to whole-body approach, pre-cradle to death, toxicology to cognition, and impact on wellbeing, workplace productivity and health/social care demand and planning. The focus of our activities is upon investigating these links among different sub-populations in regional and national contexts within the United Kingdom and in affected low- and middle-income countries worldwide. 

In the West Midlands region, air pollution affects some 2.8 million people, reducing average life expectancy by several months and is responsible for direct and indirect economic costs of several hundred million pounds. The West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme (WM-Air) is a NERC-funded initiative, led by the University of Birmingham, working in collaboration with over 20 cross-sector partners, to apply environmental science expertise to support the improvement of air quality and associated health, environmental and economic benefits across the West Midlands. WM-Air will provide an improved understanding of pollution sources and levels in the region and new capability to predict health and economic impacts of potential policy measures.  

Blurred photograph of people walking on a large city center footpath, with the autumn sun shining through

Approximately 4 million early deaths occur each year worldwide as a result of air pollution exposure associated with solid biomass fuels. Our interdisciplinary project with the University of Rwanda aims to investigate the public health impacts of household air pollution in Kigali, to inform the development of air pollution mitigation measures to improve population outcomes. 

A key emerging focus of this workstream is understanding the relationships between COVID-19, air quality and human health. We are analysing air pollution data to quantify the changes in air quality associated with emergency public health measures, in the UK and globally. In the West Midlands, this combines data from DEFRA and local authority monitoring stations, and from the Birmingham Air Quality Supersite on the University campus. At a global level, we are undertaking research with partners in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to understand the impacts of the pandemic upon ambient air quality, biomass fuel choices and human health. 

Image of a sub-Saharan African market as a backdrop to women carrying goods on their heads in a traditional way in the foreground

Air Pollution and Human Health: Resources