Clean Air Leeds

Protect yourself from air pollution

​​Find out about the causes and health effects of air pollution, who is at risk, and what you can do to protect yourself.

What is air pollution

Air pollution is the collective name for all the harmful gases and particles in the air that we breathe. It can be found both indoors and outdoors but there are steps we can take to protect ourselves.

Air pollution can be extremely local to its source, varying on an hour-by-hour and street-by-street basis. Indoors, it can even vary from one room to another.

There are many different causes of air pollutants including both indoor and outdoor sources:


Common sources of outdoor air pollution include:                       

  • vehicle brake and tyre wear
  • vehicle exhaust fumes
  • construction
  • gas heating systems
  • open fires
  • agriculture
  • gardening products, including pesticides


Common sources of indoor air pollution include:                       

  • cookers
  • gas heating systems
  • fireplaces and wood burning stoves
  • smoking and e-vapour
  • incense, candles, and air fresheners
  • most decorating and cleaning products, especially sprays
  • many personal care products, especially sprays
  • mould and mildew

We can’t always see it, but both short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution can have serious effects on our health.

Who is most at risk

Air pollution can be harmful to everyone, but some people are at greater risk. Individuals can be at greater risk either because they are exposed to higher levels of air pollution in their daily lives or because they are more vulnerable to its effects.

Short-term and long-term exposure to polluted air can be harmful to everyone, however vulnerable individuals are more likely to experience one or more symptoms when exposed to high levels of air pollution. Find out more about the short-term effects of air pollution on health on the DEFRA UK Air Information Resource external link.

Individuals most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution include:

  • children
  • older adults
  • pregnant women
  • people with existing medical conditions, especially those related to the heart and lungs

Outdoor air pollution in the UK on a day-to-day basis is not expected to rise to levels at which people need to make major changes to their habits to avoid exposure.

Effects of short-term exposure to air pollution

The Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) external link tells us about the levels of pollution in the air outdoors and provides recommended actions and health advice for short-term exposure. The index is numbered 1-10 and divided into four categories: Low (1) to Very high (10).

On most days, the DAQI for Leeds is ‘Low’ but the city occasionally experiences temporary periods with higher levels of air pollution due to a combination of man-made factors we can influence and environmental factors beyond our control. For example, air pollution in West Yorkshire reached ‘High’ or ‘Very high’ levels on 2 days in 2020.

We will issue social media alerts when pollution levels are forecast to be ‘High’ or ‘Very High’ on the council's official Facebook: /LeedsCouncilExternal link and Twitter: @LeedsCC_HelpExternal link accounts.

During episodes of high pollution some people may experience new or worse symptoms, particularly those identified as vulnerable. When pollution levels are high you can take steps to protect yourself by following the official public health guidance:

Accompanying health messages for air pollution bandings

Low 1-3

At-risk individuals

Enjoy your usual outdoor activities.                       

General population

Enjoy your usual outdoor activities.                       

Moderate 4-6

At-risk individuals

Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, who experience symptoms, should consider reducing strenuous physical activity, particularly outdoors.                       

General population

Enjoy your usual outdoor activities.                       

High 7-9

At-risk individuals

Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms.                       

People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion.                       

General population

Anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors.                       

Very High 10

At-risk individuals

Adults and children with lung problems, adults with heart problems, and older people, should avoid strenuous physical activity.                       

People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often.                       

General population

Reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as cough or sore throat.                       

You can also help protect yourself and others by taking steps to reduce your contribution to air pollution.

It is always important to follow your doctor’s usual advice about exercising and managing your health condition. It is also possible that very sensitive individuals may experience health effects even on low air pollution days.

Sign up for pollution alerts

You can sign up to receive email alerts from Leeds City Council when the Met Office forecasts that air pollution outdoors in Leeds will be ‘High’ or ‘Very high’.

You can also view the official Met Office pollution forecast external link which is based on a combination of air quality monitoring data and computer modelling.

The alert will include a reminder of the relevant official health advice to follow.

Sign up for email alertsExternal link

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is an extremely dangerous type of air pollution which we cannot smell or taste.

It is a gas created when fuels like natural gas, coal, oil, or wood do not burn properly and build up where ventilation is poor. It often occurs due to faulty gas appliances.

An inexpensive carbon monoxide detector can make you aware of the gas in your home before it reaches dangerous levels.

Find out more about the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and what to do if you suspect unsafe levels on the Northern Gas Networks website. external link

Effects of long-term exposure to air pollution

Long-term exposure to air pollution reduces life expectancy, mainly due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer. It is also linked to dementia, cognitive decline, and early life effects. It is estimated that at least 5.7 percent of deaths each year in Leeds can be linked to air pollution.

We monitor air pollution levels at dozens of sites across Leeds, including some of our most polluted locations, to help understand the maximum levels of pollution that residents are exposed to over the long-term.

We publish all our air quality monitoring data every year in our Air Quality Annual Status Report (ASR). You can read the executive summary of the ASR.

Leeds’ air quality meets national standards and is cleaner than many UK cities. However, there are no truly ‘safe’ levels of air pollution to breathe, so the more that we improve air quality and help people to reduce their exposure, the better.

We’re taking action to continue tackling air pollution and protect the health of everyone in Leeds as part of our Air Quality Strategy.

Avoiding exposure to air pollution 

As individuals, we can all minimise our exposure to air pollution every day by following three simple steps:  

  1. Take steps to reduce your own emissions. We can’t be exposed to pollution that isn’t emitted.
  2. Physically avoid the common sources of pollution listed above. Even staying just a few metres away from a pollutant source can make a big difference.
  3. Let fresh air indoors regularly by opening a window, using trickle vents (if your window has them), or using an extractor fan or air purifier. This is important as it will reduce build-ups of any indoor pollutants as well as excess humidity, which enables mould and mildew to thrive. Fresh air can be especially helpful if it is done at the same time as activities likely to create pollution such as cleaning, cooking, washing, or burning. 

If your house is currently experiencing damp or mould

You should take action to remove it and fix the underlying problem to reduce your exposure to indoor air pollution.  

If you rent your home from the council, you should  request a repair online.  

If you rent your home from another landlord, you should report the problem to them and they should work with you to repair the problem in a reasonable timeframe. Find out how to get help from the council if your landlord fails to do so.  

You can reduce the risk of mould by keeping your home warm. Find advice and information on grants to help make sure you can afford to keep your home warm.  

Clean Air Hub

Find out more about the causes of air pollution and how it impacts our health external link.

The Clean Air Hub has been created by Global Action Plan, with the support of government and corporate partners.

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