Airborne is an audio-visual art project exposing the impact of air pollution on the health of children in London, with the view to expand to other cities around the globe. The project includes microscopic images of black carbon in children's spit, infrared photographs of children revealing veins, and data maps showing pollution in London. All of these elements combine to make the invisible visible. A soundscape provides an additional description as well as interviews with parents and children affected by asthma.
Nearly 10,000 people in London (around 36,000 UK-wide) die early ever year from long-term exposure to air pollution. Two million Londoners, including more than 400,000 children, live in areas which exceed legal limits for air pollution. Children are the most vulnerable to this pollution as permanent, lifelong damage can be caused to their developing bodies.
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 categorised 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). Particles smaller than PM2.5 or ‘fine’ particles 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 as PM2.5 can pass 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.
Children exposed to both of these pollutants 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.
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 the use of public transport being seen as a risk, there is concern that a return to ‘normal’ movement to work and school will see more people using their cars than before the pandemic.
With thanks to
The children of London for appearing in this project
The Bertha Foundation
The Ella Roberta Family Foundation
Dr Abigail Whitehouse Academic Clinical Lecturer and Paediatric Registrar
The London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (LAEI)
Kings College London
Aaron May Sound Designs