The air we breathe and our health

Atmospheric pollution affects the health of the entire population, although not everyone is affected in the same way. Children, the elderly and people with health problems, such as asthma and heart or pulmonary illnesses, suffer more than everyone else. Many scientific studies show a direct relationship between pollution and health. Polluted air causes cancer, affects the immune system, leads to asthma attacks, has clear effects on cardiorespiratory illnesses, slows down brain development in children and lowers life expectancy.

Respiratory and cardiovascular problems

Short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can irritate people's eyes and respiratory systems. The main effects of long-term exposure can be slower lung development in children, bronchitis in asthmatic children and the appearance of chronic respiratory and cerebrovascular illnesses in adults. Suspended particles (PM2.5 and PM10) cause numerous nose and eye allergies and particularly affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Long-term exposure to particles in relatively low concentrations, which are usual in urban environments, can affect the lungs and even cause cancer. The finest particles (PM2,5) are the most dangerous for our health, even when levels do not exceed the limits established under European legislation.

Delayed brain development in children

Children are one of population groups worst affected by atmospheric pollution in Barcelona. According to studies, air pollution levels double during the times when children enter and leave school. Air pollution can alter children's brain connectivity and slow down brain development, as shown in several research studies conducted by the Centre for Environmental Epidemiological Research (CREAL).

Reduced life expectancy

Statistically, exposure to these levels is associated with a reduction in the population's life expectancy, by several months. There are groups that are more predisposed to health problems caused by particles, especially the elderly, children, people with heart and lung illnesses and asthmatics.

Recommendations for sports activities

Despite the problems arising from air pollution, it is medically advisable to do regular sports activities, such as walking, running, cycling and swimming. It is recommended to practice sport during off-peak hours and on less busy roads. The most important thing is to use common sense: if the air is very polluted, it is probably better to postpone your outdoor run until pollution levels have fallen. Even so, several medical studies have shown that, in healthy people, the benefits of doing sport outweigh any possible harm caused from exposure to polluted air.

Further information on the effects of nitrogen oxides and suspended particles on our health.

The Barcelona Public Health Agency

As the city's Atmospheric-Pollution Air Control Centre, the Barcelona Public Health Agency's Department of Environmental Monitoring and Control publishes an annual assessment report on air quality and its evolution over time, for each of the regulated pollutants measured at the stations comprising the city's atmospheric-pollution monitoring and forecast network.

See the ASPB report for 2015.