As the former environment editor for The Guardian, John Vidal toured the world witnessing our air pollution problem first hand. Here he tells the forgotten stories of the people and places who are breathing our planet’s dirtiest air.

Dadaab, Kenya, where cows graze amid burning rubbish in one of the largest refugee camps in the world. | Photograph ©Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/Getty Images

Minibuses and lorries belched black and white smoke. Gases from roadside rubbish dumps and nearby factories mixed with traffic fumes from the clogged eight-lane highway, and the hot evening air was filled with a dense photochemical smog making nearby buildings barely visible.

It could have been New Delhi, Jakarta, La Paz or any one of 100 Asian or Latin American megacities, but this was the Mombasa road in Nairobi, Kenya, a city where the number of vehicles doubles every six years and where air pollution is always at hazardous or dangerous levels.

Even in a car, the eyes hurt and…


Home genome kits are an increasingly popular way of learning more about your history and health. But Sarah Graham asks if they can teach us more about air pollution?

Will recent advances in genomics mean that we can testing for air pollution-related illnesses in the future? | Illustration MerijnHos ©Dyson

In 2013, Ella Kissi-Debrah died of a fatal asthma attack. The nine-year-old, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London, had been suffering from poor respiratory health for 28 months, and was admitted to hospital 28 times. An inquest into her death found that Ella had died from acute respiratory failure and severe asthma.

But in 2018, as the BBC writes: “[a recent] report said it was likely unlawful levels of pollution, which were detected at a monitoring station one mile from Ella’s home, contributed to her fatal asthma attack”.

As a result Judge Mark Lucraft QC…


Unknown to most, the millennial language of emojis contains many hints and clues about the sources of air pollution around you. We investigate some of their causes…

If Emojis can tell you a lot about your lifestyle, what can they tell you about your pollution? | Illustration ©Dyson

The quality of the air you breathe during your day depends on the choices you make. If you cycle to work you may encounter less pollution than if you take a cab. If you live on a farm you may be breathing in different pollutants to those which people living in cities are exposed to. Your everyday life can include hundreds of different “pollution events” depending on the decisions you make — from playing with their pets to going on holiday to visiting a salon for a blowdry.

One of the most diverse sources of indoor pollution are volatile organic…


New York Times correspondent and author of Faster, Higher, Farther, Jack Ewing, tells the inside story of Dieselgate, the Volkswagen emissions scandal

Animal-rights activists protesting against VW testing car emissions on monkeys | Photography ©Getty

CLEAN DIESEL?

In the 1980s at Audi, a young Ferdinand Piëch, later Volkswagen’s chief executive, was working on a technological innovation that would have far-reaching consequences for VW, Audi’s parent company. It was one of the initiatives Piëch was later most proud of: diesel engines designed for passenger cars. Invented in the 1800s by Rudolf Diesel, diesel has long been in widespread use in trucks and ships, here it provided superior fuel economy and longer engine life. But it was much more difficult to deploy diesel in smaller vehicles.

In all automobile engines, much of the potential energy is wasted…


A crack team of microbiologists and engineers spend their days inside Dyson’s RDD analysing the contents of purifier filters and decoding the submicroscopic secrets of the air in our homes

One of Dyson’s air purifier testing labs in Malaysia | Photography Bryan Van Der Beek ©Dyson

We all know that our homes can reveal a lot about the people who live in them and their unique lifestyles — from the photos on the walls to the food in the fridge, down to the toiletries in our bathrooms, a quick snoop around tells you a great deal about the inhabitants of a house.

But what we might not know is that the air around us can also tell its own tales about our lives. The bacteria that you bring in from the street on your shoes, the tiny fibres from your furniture, the volatile gases given off…


Dyson engineers have added an altimeter to their smart new V10 electric motor meaning it can tell if it’s being used at sea-level or in the mountains. But why?

What happens when you cross a baromotor with an electric motor? | Illustration Vasava Studio ©Dyson

Increasingly, “smart” devices seem to be adding voguish technologies like voice assistants, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality. Fewer companies, however, would consider the benefit of adding barometers, a now over 350-year-old piece of technology, to a product that cost millions to research and develop.

Fewer companies still would consider attaching this ancient technology to a vacuum cleaner. Nevertheless, this is exactly what Dyson has done with its latest cleaning product and, what’s more, they say the addition is going to be “game-changing”.

Barometers probably bring to mind images of antique wall ornaments with ornately painted faces offering whimsical meteorological advice…


How the European Space Agency’s new Sentinel satellite is helping to keep planet Earth’s air pollution in check

Last year, between August and September you contributed to all the pollution recorded. If you were in a car, bus or train with a combustion engine — in fact, if you did virtually anything using electricity you produced nitrogen dioxide, a nasty-smelling, gaseous pollutant. In cities, almost all of it comes from vehicle exhausts. But it can also be produced by power plants, factories and anything else that burns things.

With people increasingly worried about the impact of burning fossil fuels, the scientific community is investing more money into studying its effects. One experiment is the European Space Agency’s Sentinel…


Air-borne particles from the compromised Soviet Reactor 4 have significantly undermined air quality and life expectancy across Europe, making the disaster in Ukraine the largest air pollution disaster in modern history.

Relief workers donning their protective breathing apparatus | Photograph © HBO

Chances are you’re now up to date on HBO’s Chernobyl (incidentally IMDB’s highest-rated show of all time). Detailing the fallout from the 1986 explosion of reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat in what was the Ukrainian SSR, the show offers a bleak and apocalyptic insight into the raw power of nuclear energy and its devastating and unprecedented impact on the lives of those called upon to help contain the disaster. From firefighters being broken down at a cellular level to villages full of infected dogs being exterminated, it’s grim viewing, to say the least. …


Dyson on: why “industrial invention” is more important than the lightbulb moment…

A prototype robotic vacuum | Photography © Dyson

Burned toast and the see-through toaster. That’s the image that springs to mind for most people they picture an ‘invention’. It’s usually a gizmo or gadget cooked up in garden sheds or Silicon Valley garages by messy haired oddballs.

Between the 18th and 20th centuries this “clutter-bug inventor” mythology was well-deserved.

On the day Albert Einstein died, a Time magazine photographer, Ralph Morse, snuck into the physicist’s office in Princeton, New Jersey. His famous picture shows the desk of one of history’s greatest minds — and it’s a complete and utter mess. While he was still alive, Einstein was even…


Dyson on: why “industrial invention” is more important than the lightbulb moment…

A prototype robotic vacuum | Photography © Dyson

Burned toast and the see-through toaster. That’s the image that springs to mind for most people they picture an ‘invention’. It’s usually a gizmo or gadget cooked up in garden sheds or Silicon Valley garages by messy haired oddballs.

Between the 18th and 20th centuries this “clutter-bug inventor” mythology was well-deserved.

On the day Albert Einstein died, a Time magazine photographer, Ralph Morse, snuck into the physicist’s office in Princeton, New Jersey. His famous picture shows the desk of one of history’s greatest minds — and it’s a complete and utter mess. While he was still alive, Einstein was even…

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