Traffic pollution and childhood asthma

When the government mentions asthma in relation to traffic pollution, it’s generally to warn that children with lung problems should consider reducing strenuous physical activity, particularly outdoors.

What the government has failed to do is to warn every parent that traffic pollution is harmful to every child.

Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic. Traffic pollution reduces lung function development in young children. 

Children travel to nursery and school at a time when traffic pollution is very high. Their journeys are often unavoidably along the busiest roads. Whether walking alongside slow moving vehicles, waiting next to idling vehicles at bus stops, or travelling by bus or car, children are breathing air that is harming them every school day.

Britain has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the world. According to the charity Asthma UK around 1.1million children in the UK are living with Asthma.

A recent city-wide study found that nearly one in four cases of childhood asthma are caused by traffic pollution. International scientists used computer simulations to assess the impact of exposure to irritant gases called nitrogen oxides in the city of Bradford, connecting cases to pollution from road vehicles. Their findings add to the overwhelming evidence that air pollution is harming our children.

When we hear about children breathing air that is harming them, it’s hard to accept that it is our children being talked about.

“It couldn’t possibly be my child at risk. I walk my child to school and I’d know if the air was that bad”.

But how would we know if the air is harmful?

The tell-tale exhaust smoke you look out for no longer exists. That offensive smell that makes you cover your mouth is no longer present. Carcinogenic diesel exhaust has been designed to be invisible and odourless.

You could be standing at a bus stop for 10 minutes with your baby, toddler or child a foot away from a line of idling diesel vehicles and you’d not see or smell any exhaust fumes that tells you that your child is being poisoned.

Your child could be breathing peacefully in their seat behind you as you take twelve minutes to drive what should be a two minute mile. You have the windows closed to keep out the noise from the traffic and the fan on to keep everyone cool (by sucking in the exhaust from the large diesel vehicle directly in front of you). Pollution levels inside your vehicle can be several times higher than the levels on the pavement.

Every parent should know that the legal hourly limit for NO2 is 200ugm3 and that at 200ugm3 NO2 is a toxic gas. 

Want to find out the level of NO2 your child is breathing during the hour they travel to nursery or school?    

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