The UK’s clean-air cities: which ranks top for pollutant-free family living?

5 min
Updated Oct 30th, 2023

Table of contents

Portsmouth ranks number one, with Defra data revealing that Greater London has nearly double its level of air pollution. Recent research has linked childhood exposure to air pollution with poor mental health.

Portsmouth has the cleanest air among UK cities, with a score of 1.5, according to Defra’s Daily Air Quality Index. This means young families living in the coastal city are getting half the exposure to air pollution, compared to families in London. Portsmouth is followed by Liverpool (2.1), Glasgow (2.23) and Belfast (2.25), making these some of the best UK cities for young, pollution-conscious families. 

Defra’s Daily Air Quality Index takes into account a range of common air pollutants to provide a daily index measure, using data from March 2020 to March 2021. The average score for the UK’s urban areas is 2.55, with levels certain to rise as lockdown ends and more cars hit the road.

Unsurprisingly, Greater London ranks as the worst area in the UK for pollution, with a score of 2.84 on the index. The city with the next highest score is Brighton (2.62) – aptly known as ‘Little London’ and nearly matching its pollution levels. These are followed by Bristol (2.6), which sits third to bottom on the Daily Air Quality Index.

The Fertility and Air Pollution campaign from Fertility Family collates the latest Defra data and reveals the UK cities that are most pollutant-free and health-friendly for young families. Also highlighted are the areas in the UK that have made the biggest improvements in air quality over the last three years. The campaign comes after Duke University research uncovered a link between high levels of pollution in childhood and poor mental health later in life.

The city with the biggest improvement in air quality is Glasgow, which introduced Scotland’s first low emission zone in 2018. The Liverpool, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire areas have also seen significant improvements in their air quality. At the other end of the scale, air pollution around Brighton has increased markedly, leaving it at the bottom of the list.

Everyday tips to keep your family safe from air pollution

  • Stay away from main roads and busy junctions, particularly when exercising
  • Avoid strenuous exercise outdoors
  • Walk on the inside of the pavement, away from the road
  • Leave for work prior to rush hour, before pollution builds up

Antonio La Marca, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, had some more advice on the topic.

“The good news is that today both technology and architectural solutions can help maintain an excellent level of indoor air quality compared to outdoor air. The advice for those who live close to particularly polluted urban areas is to devote attention to adapting their home or workplace (if possible) to reduce the effects of air pollution on their health.”

How does air pollution affect fertility and pregnancy?

Air pollution releases highly reactive molecules that can damage DNA in sperm, which has been linked to male infertility by several studies. Research also suggests that air pollution can reduce the number of eggs maturing in the ovaries. While hydrocarbon compounds, such as those produced by vehicle emissions, have been associated with a reduced chance of pregnancies going to term.

Fertility Family spoke to Dr. Audrey Gaskins, ScD, Assistant Professor at the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University. She said:

“On an individual level, there are several ways you can reduce your personal exposure to air pollution. First, avoid major outdoor sources of air pollution: reduce the time you spend on heavily trafficked roads, limit your time outdoors when air quality is poor, and if you live near a busy road, keep windows closed during rush hours.”

Dr Shanna H. Swan, PhD is one of the world’s leading environmental and reproductive epidemiologists and a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She said:

“There are many steps a couple can take to reduce their exposures to chemicals that can harm their reproductive health…Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, can be decreased via food, shopping, storage, cooking, products (such as personal care products) that women or men will use on their skin, cleaning and laundry products, and anything with fragrance.”

Notes to Editor

The data was collected from DEFRA (Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs) 

Daily Air Quality Index created by DEFRA which includes: 

  • Nitrogen Dioxide
  • Sulphur Dioxide
  • Ozone
  • Particles < 2.5µm (PM2.5)
  • Particles < 10µm (PM10)

Reduced chance of pregnancies and the link to hydrocarbon compounds:

About Fertility Family

Fertility Family are dedicated to providing information and products that help increase chances of having a baby. Fertility Family was started by Pharmasure, who has been in the field of fertility for over twenty years, and is partnered with Fertility Network UK and the British Fertility Society. Using their experience in the field, they have found carefully formulated products that have gone through clinical trials and are scientifically proven to help improve chances of having a baby.

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