Airborne is an audio-visual art project exposing the impact of air pollution on the health of children in London, linking to wider themes of climate change. The project includes microscopic images of black carbon in children's spit, infrared photographs of children revealing veins, data maps showing pollution in London as well as sculptures of nebulisers cast into heavy metals found in the air. A soundscape provides an additional description as well as interviews with parents and children affected by asthma. All of these elements combine to make the invisible nature of air pollution visible.
Air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people worldwide every year with over 99% of the worlds population breathing air that exceeds World Health Organisation pollution guidelines. Around 4,000 people in London die early every year from long-term exposure to air pollution. 98% of schools in London are in areas exceeding World Health Organization limits, and children in London are almost four times more likely to go to schools exceeding these limits than in the rest of England. There is no evidence of a safe level of exposure. Children are the most vulnerable to this pollution as permanent, lifelong damage can be caused to their developing bodies.
Children exposed to air pollution are at risk from low birth weight and premature birth, impaired organ and neurodevelopment, possible increased risk of ADHD, low lung function and lung growth, increased inflammation in the airways, asthma attacks, respiratory illness, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, COPD and early mortality.
Particulate matter refers to the solid and liquid pollutant particles suspended in the air. Particulates come from many sources including vehicles, industrial facilities and fires. They are categorized in size as PM2.5 and PM10 (particles up to 10 or 2.5 micrometers in width, smaller than the diameter of a human hair) and have a black carbon core (visible in the sputum images). Ultrafine particles, smaller than PM2.5 are unregulated, and are the most dangerous to human health as they can pass through the nose, into the lungs and penetrate into the bloodstream. The impact of these fine particles can start as early as in the womb by passing through the placenta from mother to the baby. Black carbon not only affects human health directly, but is also a significant contributor to climate change.
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is one of a group of gases called Nitrogen Oxides. Road transport is estimated to be responsible for about 50% of total emissions of Nitrogen Oxides.
During lockdown air pollution dropped significantly. Research is emerging to suggest that people living in areas of high pollution are more vulnerable to the impacts of Coronavirus.
With thanks to
The children of London for appearing in this project
Arts Council England
The Bertha Foundation
Dr Abigail Whitehouse
The London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (LAEI)
Imperial College London
Aaron May Sound Designs
Produced in collaboration with The Ella Roberta Foundation