Consultation Air Quality

Emissions from aircraft contain various particulates that can damage our health. Much research has focused on the extent to which damaging Ultrafine Particles (UFPs) and nitrogen dioxide are present in the air we breathe in and at a distance from airports.

While Heathrow continues to state that these chemicals quickly disperse (and effectively disappear) into the air close to the airport, there is increasing evidence that this is not the case. Particulates and nitrogen oxide can travel downwind and are detectable significant distances away from the airport – up to 40 km away[1]

The Department of the Environment Fisheries and Rural Affairs[2] state that “Research from mainland Europe and North America indicates that aviation emissions can have an appreciable impact upon particle number concentrations within tens of kilometres of major airports.”

What effect do these emissions have on our health?

UFPs can penetrate into the lungs and then into the bloodstream. It is recognised that that UFPs and nitrogen dioxide can impact our breathing and that impacts can be most serious in asthma sufferers and the more vulnerable such as children, the elderly and unborn babies.

A report by the Royal College of Physicians[3] states: “Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution which plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day. It has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia.”

Nitrogen dioxide levels around Heathrow have been recorded above legal limits for many years.  Particulate pollution also breaches World Health Organisation guidelines.

Heathrow’s case for expansion relies on action being taken beyond the airport, such as improved public transport links and an ultra-low-emission zone. Without these measures, expansion is projected to worsen pollution.


In response to the consultation, we suggest that you comment in your own words as follows:

  • any expansion in air traffic will result in more air pollution
  • air pollution is damaging to the health of communities in and around the airport. This is unacceptable.
  • if you or any member of your household are elderly, or have a health issue that may be affected by breathing in poor quality air then say so
  • also if you are pregnant or planning pregnancy we suggest you mention your particular personal concern.
  • the measures suggested by Heathrow to address issues of air quality are wholly inadequate

Click here to add your comments and feedback to Heathrow’s consultation.

[1] Research into the impact of aviation activity on air quality at distances from Los Angeles International Airport:   Hudda et al 2014
[1] Also by Rima Habre et al at  with a pdf of the full report at
[2] DEFRA report on Ultra Fine Particles
[3] Royal College of Physicians report entitled: ‘ “Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution”