Application for Strategic Priorities Fund: Clean Air Champion

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Clinical and Experimental Sciences


Air pollution has long been known to damage health and the environment, with recent research adding considerably to the knowledge base on how this occurs and why. However air pollution can be thought of as a wicked problem where no single solution will create the desired reductions necessary to meet targets based on health set by the WHO. The Clean Air Champion(s) roles are to drive forward new research into air pollution in relation to adverse health and effects on the wider environment environment. At present we know that air pollution of all types and from multiple sources causes damage to living cells whether human, animals or plants.
However, understanding the total exposure to air pollutants and mixtures across 24 hours and over much longer periods in real world settings is largely unknown. The advent of new technologies in the field for personal and more localised pollution monitoring coupled with improved markers of damage and worsening of diseases will greatly strengthen the information required to introduce control of emissions and mitigation strategies for the benefit of society. Technologies that can be sustaining or disruptive also have a key role in cleaning up the air around us.
The ability to create predictive models of adverse air pollution outcomes in relation to climate conditions, urban settings and indoors is an important part of this Air Pollution Solutions programme, but any such model requires validation with real world observations. There is an urgent need to break down traditional barriers between physical, biological and health scientists on the one hand and the research community, industry and local and central government to translate knew knowledge on pollution to benefit the health and wealth of society.
To achieve these aims, this proposal for a Clean Air Champion(s) lays out a strategy and a delivery plan to strengthen the field and through interdisciplinary working create more joined up working that will translate into benefits to the public at large and create new opportunities for industry as this and other countries get closer to replacing pollution emitting sources by cleaner technologies. A further role for the Champion(s) is to promote greater public awareness and understanding of the adverse effect of air pollution and to offer ways forward where everyone can play their role in driving down pollution levels.
The aims of the Clean Air Champion(s)will be: 1) Identify and then undertake a mapping exercise to discern the goals and problems to be solved. T; 2) Unify key researchers and stakeholders around visionary missions using a range of tools to engage the different communities ranging; 3) Uncover and challenge barriers/obstacles and produce workable interdisciplinary solutions; 4) Create new ideas leading to new interventions to test; 5) Translate these ideas into practical activities targeted at the right audiences; 6) Develop a professional and public communications strategy using the best available evidence available and convert these into positive messaging. We see a particular role for early career researchers throughout the whole programme since they will become the leaders who will ensure novel and ambitious goals are set and that the programme becomes sustainable.
People will change their behaviour only if they see the new behaviour as easy, rewarding, empowering and normal. Although the work will be coordinated from Southampton and Kings College, London, the activity has to be national in character and sufficiently ambitious to drive change.

Planned Impact

The impact of the Clean Air Champion(s) will be a healthier society and increased wealth. A healthy society is a productive society. Bringing different types of research together to address the complex challenges that air pollution creates is the only way that progress will be made to reduce pollutant emissions and mitigate against the multiple adverse effects. The recognition that air pollutants, especially particulates (PM), are responsible for exacerbating and accelerating the progress of many chronic diseases and cancer in multiple organs, and that such effects occur across the lifecourse, mandates action to improve the air we breath.
Particular attention needs to focus on vulnerable groups and those with inequalities in whom air pollution is on of many problems impairing their quality of life and shortening their survival.
In addition to creating the necessary interdisciplinary interactions to translate research into air pollution for societal benefit, there are unique opportunities to work with industry in the improved measurement of pollution a more local and personal level, removal of pollutants from emission sources and indoors, promote zero carbon transport including electrification of the vehicle fleet, facilitating greater use of shared and public transport and the promotion of active travel. While this tends to focus on human health, reducing pollution will also benefit the wider environment such as bee health and crop yields.
An effective cleaner air strategy needs to be evidenced-based and have sign-up by those who can do something about it. This not only includes those living in urban settings, but also agriculture (e.g ammonia contributing to secondary PM) and wood burning (primary PM), which are being increasingly recognised as new and important pollutant sources.This is why an effective awareness and communications strategy has to be seen as very much part of the Clean Air Champions' role. Ensuring the public is properly informed with choices of how their actions could help will make all the difference since everyone is contributing to the problem and everyone has the choice to do something to help, no matter how small this might be.
Importantly, any improvements in the UK's air pollution will benefit meeting our targets on Climate Change as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement. Finally, every effort should be made to reduce pollutant levels to WHO Standards to protect the health, not only for the current generation but for future generations, as an important driver for humans to live within sustainable environmental limits.


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Holgate ST (2019) The Future of Asthma Care: Personalized Asthma Treatment. in Clinics in chest medicine

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Humbert M (2021) Reducing the hidden burden of severe asthma: recognition and referrals from primary practice. in The Journal of asthma : official journal of the Association for the Care of Asthma

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Loxham M (2019) The health effects of fine particulate air pollution. in BMJ (Clinical research ed.)

Description As Clean Air Champions we have met the UKRI and Met Office funded research community and for both had separate Kick-off meetings that were highly successful. We are using these projects to add value to our discussions with politicians (including the Mayor of London), industry (e.g. Dyson) and the Medical and Health community. We have established a MOU with the NGO, Global Action Plan to help deliver clear air improvement messaging (both indoors and outdoors) to the wider public(s) and schoolchildren.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Construction,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Increased communication between UKRI and Met Office funded researchers
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Greater awareness of public about air pollution issues
Description Application for Strategic Priorities Fund: Clean Air Champion
Amount £430,602 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/T002069/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2019 
End 06/2022
Description Established close working relationships with Wave 1 and Wave 2 Clean Air SPF grant awardees 
Organisation Universities UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have frequent contact with the wave 1 project (current air pollution problems) grant holders from the UKRI (5), Met Office (3 external and 3 internal) and Innovate UK (3). In addition with Wave 2 (future air pollution issues), the CACs helped with the scoping workshops for the 6 Networks and Consortia. We have regular meetings with them all.
Collaborator Contribution Our role is to explore interdisciplinary collaboration and to explore possible ways we can add value to the SPF activities.
Impact So far there is great enthusiasm to come together. Our activities have led us to create a Roadmap with 10 priorities that require addressing. We participated in the Wave 2 Kick-off meeting in 2021 and have run a Workshop on "Joining Forces" to bring in others outside the SPF. We have established a toxicology workshop with the RS and subsequent round table which will lead to recommendations to rebuild air pollution toxicology in the UK. We have had multiple interactions with the Social Science Sector as well as Medical Charities and Professional bodies and are exploring ways to enhance air pollution knowledge transfer to the Health Professions.
Start Year 2020
Description Working closely with UKRI Partners, met office, industrial colleagues, health professionals, 3rd sector, and the public(s) 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department School of Medicine Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Our role is to create a joined up approach to combatting air pollution. Providing information and creating opportunities to communicate across boundaries to inform activities to clean up the air e.g. input into the Environment Bill.
Collaborator Contribution They are helping us generate the necessary networks to enable research on pollution to make a difference to the public and create new industry.
Impact Too early yet. But in discussions with Defra over the WHO PM2.5 air pollution target in the upcoming Environment Bill.
Start Year 2019
Description Multiple presentations at conferences such as PHE annual air pollution conference, EPUK annual meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Clean Air Champions are invited to give regular updates on the Clean Air SPF to a variety of conferences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020