Little Ninja on the BBC

This morning I appeared on BBC Breakfast and BBC Radio to talk about vehicle idling. There’s only so much you can say in a minute or two, so here’s what got missed:

Just over two years ago, whilst standing at a TfL bus shelter, I noticed how close the exhaust pipe of an idling vehicle was to my son’s face. That was the first time I questioned the quality of air my son was breathing. I asked the council how bad pollution was at that bus stop and they didn’t know so I bought the most mature air quality monitor on the market mounted it at the bus stop and measured air pollution.

The monitor recorded toxic levels of nitrogen dioxide at a 2 metre height, with an annual average of almost twice the legal limit which is equivalent to a reduction in lung volume of 5-10% by the time my son is 8-9 years old.

Simply breathing this air means he has an increased risk of asthma, pneumonia, leukemia, reduced cognitive development and IQ, lower quality of life and shorter life expectancy. That changed our lives. We live on a main road but our children’s exposure to air pollution is not at home, it’s when travelling on congested roads and spending time near idling vehicles at bus stops, traffic lights and school gates.

An idling vehicle can produce almost twice the emissions as a moving vehicle, due to incomplete combustion. When you see a child or a baby in a buggy whose face is next to and almost level with the exhaust pipe of an idling vehicle, they are being slowly poisoned.

Diesel engine exhaust is carcinogenic, group 1, like tobacco smoke it is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. Infants breathe three times more air than adults relative to their body weight, so higher concentrations and greater volumes of toxic air and as they are still growing, what they breathe in stays in and becomes part of their cells. This stunts their lung and brain growth.

We’ve taken steps to minimise the time our children spend on the main roads and near idling vehicles. We no longer wait at TfL kerbside bus shelters and we refuse to send our kids to a nursery/school near a busy road. There are however hundreds of thousands of children in London who live, travel and attend schools on busy main roads. They are being exposed to levels of toxic air that threatens their lifelong health and many of their parents are unaware of the danger their children face.

Babies and children are fighting invisible pollutant monsters NO2 & PM2.5 which inflame their lungs pass into their blood stream and travel to every organ in their small developing bodies causing havoc. Our ‘little ninjas’ are fighting for their future health and they desperately need our help.

We understand people depend on their cars, vans trucks and at the moment a certain level of air pollution is unavoidable but when an adult parks outside a nursery or primary school and you ask them to switch of their engine and they say “I can’t because I’m charging my mobile phone” or “It’s ok, I’ll only be a few more minutes” my heart sinks. Every minute of idling is 150 balloons filled with toxic gas that includes cyanide.

The Government knows that diesel and petrol are poisoning our children and our planet but have decided to phase these out over 20 years so as not to disturb the plans of the car and fossil fuel industries.

Local councils take their lead from the government and cars are king. Try storing a bicycle near your home in Wandsworth and you’ll find only two cycle hangars to be shared between 320,000 residents even though 45% of residents do not own a car.

TfL have laid out their plans and apparently ULEZ is the answer to all our problems, even though the expansion in Oct 2021 will not include the North-South Circular Road and all the main arterial roads that feed into it, which include residential streets and high streets.

What can be done to protect the children least responsible for the toxic air but most at risk?

We can and must reduce their air pollution exposure by minimising the amount of fossil fuel burnt unnecessarily (idling) and increasing the distance between the vehicle exhaust pipe and a child’s face. Research shows that even a few metres can mean a five-fold increase/decrease in exposure levels.

There is no good reason for an adult to idle their vehicle engine when parked. There are alternatives to stay warm/cool or to charge a mobile phone in a parked car than burning diesel or petrol. New idling law needs to make this crystal clear. Please read, sign and share this petition for new idling law:

There is no good reason for a vehicle to stop, idle and accelerate where children have been directed by TfL to wait by the kerb on a busy road to catch a bus to/from school. Vehicles can stop a few metres before the bus shelter and wait till the vehicle ahead moves before accelerating and driving past the bus shelter. Please read, sign & share this petition for Keep Clear road markings at kerbside bus shelters:

During rush hour on many congested roads vehicles can accelerate and brake 40, 50, 60 times and idle for 10+ minutes to drive a single mile. Every acceleration can produce ten times the emissions and when the vehicle brakes, particulate matter (microscopic bits of rubber, plastic, metal and oil) are released from brake, engine, tyre and road surface wear. We cannot just accept this toxic air every rush hour when we know holding vehicles for five minutes with engines switched off will not increase journey time but will dramatically reduce air pollution exposure for drivers and pedestrians. Please read, sign and share this petition to trial our rush hour pollution solution:

It’s been two years of campaigning to raise public awareness of the threat to children’s health of vehicle idling. The fuel companies want people to burn as much fuel as possible. The Government gets around 65% of the cash spent on fuel. The car companies ignore legal limits on exhausts with some of the most popular cars on our roads emitting 17 times the legal limit.

I’m delighted BBC have put a spotlight on idling but now it’s really up to us the people to tell the Government, the Council and TfL that enough is enough and demand they protect our babies, infants, toddlers and children.

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