Children in UK cities are inhaling 60% of their daily air pollution intake on the ‘toxic’ school run and while being taught in the classroom
- A Unicef report warns children in British cities are at risk from ‘black carbon’
- Black carbon is considered the most dangerous component of air pollution
- Experts say exposure during childhood can affect the development of organs
Children are put at risk of severe illness because they are exposed to so much air pollution on the school run, research suggests.
A report by Unicef UK today warns that children in British cities are at risk from ‘black carbon’ – the sooty particles that are particularly linked to emissions of diesel cars.
It reveals that primary school children are exposed to 60 per cent of their daily air pollution intake on the school run and while at school, despite accounting for only 40 per cent of their time.
Black carbon is considered the most dangerous component of air pollution, because it penetrates deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream.
Scientists believe exposure during childhood is particularly dangerous because it can affect the development of the lungs, heart and brain.
Children are breathing in soot in the playground (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Professor Jonathan Grigg, a paediatrician at Queen Mary University of London who conducted the study for Unicef, said the only way to deal with the problem would be to get rid of the older diesel cars on the roads.
‘This is evidence that UK children are being exposed to this toxic soot, which is mainly from diesels,’ he said.
‘Air pollution is detrimental to all health but it can have major implications on the developing child.
‘It’s a national problem, and it wouldn’t be dealt with just by closing a road near a school or putting air filters on schools.
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‘We need to change the mix of vehicles on the road and reduce exposure.’
The research team examined saliva samples from 400 primary school children in London and found evidence of high levels of black carbon.
They then gave a subset of 47 children air quality monitors to see where they were exposed to the most pollution. They found pollution spiked each day on the way to and from school.
Professor Grigg said the study was representative of any big city in the UK, because the exposure is down to travel on busy roads, rather than the background pollution seen in London.
‘It’s mainly the road effect – we would see something similar in Leicester or Sheffield – any big city.
‘More than half of the UK’s entire transport system uses diesel – buses, vans and lorries, forms of water transport, trains, and construction and farm machinery.
‘To help protect children’s health we must promote alternatives.’ Amy Gibbs, Unicef UK’s director of advocacy, said: ‘The results of this research are distressing.
‘Every day, thousands of children across the UK are setting off on a toxic school run that could impact their lifespan and contribute to serious long-term health problems.
‘The quality of air they breathe in the playground or as they walk to school should not be yet another burden.’
The UK is notoriously bad at controlling air pollution, with 37 cities British cities persistently displaying ‘illegal’ levels – which has seen the Government repeatedly hauled into court over the last few years.
Diesel cars have been promoted since the 1970s as an environmentally-friendly choice because they emit less carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas which causes global warming.
Tony Blair’s Labour government, in particular, used generous tax breaks to persuade drivers to buy diesel cars.
The tactic – which aimed to help Britain hit EU carbon emissions targets – contributed to the number of diesel drivers in Britain jumping from around 1.5million a decade ago to about 11million today.
But in recent years scientists have realised that diesel also produces more of the tiny particles and nitrogen oxides that are damaging to human health.
DOES EXPOSURE TO AIR POLLUTION DURING PREGNANCY CAUSE BIRTH DEFECTS?
Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 percent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.
Living within 5km of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.
For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 percent, the research adds.
Fine air particles, which weigh less than 0.0025mg, are given out in vehicle exhaust fumes and, when breathed in, become deposited in the lungs where they enter the circulation.
Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’.
Physicians Committee figures reveal birth defects affect three percent of all babies born in the US.
Around six percent of infants suffer in the UK, according to a report from the British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers
The researchers analyzed 290,000 babies living in Ohio between 2006 and 2010.
Monthly fine air particle levels were matched to the home addresses of pregnant women before and after they conceived.
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