TOXIC AIR: CHILDREN AT RISK

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Over a year ago I wrote a blog highlighting the worryingly high number of nurseries located close to roads where the level of air pollution exceeds the legal limit.

Now, following research, Unicef UK is calling on the Government to take action.

Every day, millions of children across the UK are exposed to dangerous levels of pollution where they live, learn and play.

Unicef UK estimates that one in three UK children - 4.5 million - are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate pollution, the majority of which comes from vehicle emissions.

Particulate matter is the tiny bits of solids or liquid suspended in the air and are the most dangerous for our health as they’re able to penetrate deep into our lungs and potentially bloodstream and brains.

For babies and young children, the health effects of this invisible danger are even more acute. Exposure to toxic particulates during these critical early stages of development can leave a child with stunted lungs, respiratory conditions like asthma and potentially even reduced brain development.

Existing evidence shows children in around 2,000 schools and nurseries in the UK are being exposed to illegal and unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution.

They tend to be exposed to higher doses than adults as they spend more time outside. They also often walk, or are pushed in buggies, at the height of exhaust emissions so they breathe in more toxic concentrations.

Following research by Queen Mary's University London, Unicef UK is calling on the Government to urgently fund and prioritise policies and health interventions that protect children from toxic air before they suffer irreversible damage to their health.

Specifically, Unicef UK is asking the Government to:

  1. Establish a funding pot to pay for measures that protect children from toxic air.
  2. Set out a UK-wide strategy on children and air pollution.
  3. Create ambitious networks of clean air zones that lower pollution and create child-friendly areas.
  4. Expand air quality monitoring, data collection and dissemination to better understand children’s exposure to toxic air.
  5. Set up a children and young people’s clean air forum, to make sure that all future solutions and policies are child-led and child-focused.

The research looked at the exposure children in London had to air pollution across the school day.

The main finding of the data (part of a wider unpublished study) is that while children spend on average around 60% of their day at home and only 30% at school, their exposure to black carbon (a component of particulate matter) is disproportionately high during the school day and while they’re on the school run.

Exposure levels peak during the school run and during school break times and are at the lowest when children are at home.

While the findings are only a small snapshot of children’s exposure to air pollution, they represent a broader trend that is backed up by as yet unpublished research.

While the study only looked at children in London, Unicef UK plans to commission further comparative studies across UK towns and cities.