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Air pollution nearly killed me

Carole collapsed because of air pollution. Now she's calling for a new Clean Air Act.


Carole Whitbread from Kent


Pollution nearly killed me. We need a new Clean Air Act.

Until you’ve been through near-suffocation, you don’t know what a terrible feeling it is.  My life changed forever after I collapsed because of air pollution. It’s an invisible danger. It nearly killed me.

I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2009. It resulted in me having to take early retirement from the Met Police, ending a 22-year career as an officer at South Norwood Police Station.  

I’d always been physically fit, running and swimming. Adjusting to lung disease was a challenge. I was frequently out of breath. Some days were worse than others. I assumed this related to the weather, humidity, or damp conditions. I never made the connection to air quality.

I felt my chest tightening, couldn’t breathe properly and my heart was pounding violently.

It was beautifully sunny, I was walking the dogs, when suddenly I became very short of breath. This was worse than normal, I felt my chest tightening, couldn’t breathe properly and my heart was pounding violently. I collapsed on the pavement.

No-one else was around. Eventually I managed to stand and started walking, hoping help was around the corner. I couldn’t take more than 3 steps at a time, before needing to stop, panting for air. It took me 2 hours to struggle home, a walk that normally takes 20 minutes.

I had to keep indoors for 2 months while I recovered, on antibiotics and steroids, in the care of my son and daughter-in-law. 

Medical experts told me the pollution had inflamed my lungs, putting pressure on my heart. I was starved of air. If I hadn’t got help from the emergency doctor, I could have died. It was very frightening and I didn’t think I would recover.

The experience has made me very cautious and nervous. I now always check the DEFRA pollution forecasts before judging if I can venture out. I never did that before. I thought that if you can’t see or smell pollution, it’s not there. I felt naïve. If the forecast is for moderate pollution, that’s it – I have to stay inside.

COPD has restricted my life. Air pollution is now increasingly trapping me in my own home, and there’s nothing the best doctors in the world can do about it.

That’s why I’m joining a new coalition of charities, including the British Lung Foundation and Client Earth, to tell the government that we need a new Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution.

It’s down to the government to introduce laws to help improve air quality. It’s about motorists switching to low or zero emission vehicles and that won’t happen overnight.

We need the government to take action by showing ambition and leadership. A new Clean Air Act will show they are taking tackling toxic air seriously. We need new legislation that protects all our health and puts in place alternatives that help us all make cleaner choices.

I'm glad that people are taking action. It gives me hope that one day, others won't have to go through what I've been through.

I’m supporting this coalition because without people like me, nothing will change. We need to do something urgently. 

Join the coalition now

Carole Whitbread avatar February 2017

Carole Whitbread

Carole lives in Kent and has COPD. She's campaigning with the BLF to help fight air pollution.


I dread breathing in air that has been sprayed from an automatic aerosol in a public place such as loos and some shops and venues. This takes your breath away and can take 10 or more minutes to recover. I have heard of people with COPD experiencing far more serious problems with wall-mounted automatic aerosols. What can we do about this?
I know exactly how Carol felt.  If they could ban air fresheners in public loos and shops and also ban balanced flues and get the fumes above the roof through a good old fashioned chimney .... that would help too.  It's NOT just vehicles.
Knee-jerk reactions are counter-productive and misplaced. Pollution is created not only by cars, but also by industry and domestic heating, as well as from brake and rubber dust from all vehicles. Getting people to walk or cycle more would do more good than the current fashionable campaign of demonising diesels. It is too simplistic and requires a wise overview of the whole situation. Hydrogen fuelled vehicles will help, but also Government has been negligent in not building more by-passes so that traffic that is inter-urban is removed from built-up areas. Places like Bristol and Bath are classic examples of this.
Hi,i have just left my job with Denbighshire council after breathing in plastic fumes for the past 4 years coming from a factory next door to where i worked,the fumes caused me terrible breathing problems which are still on going and the factory is still polluting ,ive tried every a way to stop them but have never been successful

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15 February 2017