Air Clean Up

  • Pollution Has a Lasting Impact on Children's Health

Pollution Has a Lasting Impact on Children's Health

Jan 28 2019 Read 853 Times

Prolonged and regular exposure to air pollution has a permanent impact on children’s lungs, according to a major new study from London. Focusing on the area affected by the introduction of the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) in 2008, the study followed more than 2,000 schoolchildren across two different time periods and is the first to involve environments where diesel emissions are such a large factor.

Not only did the study reveal that children exposed to excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) caused by diesel vehicles have reduced lung capacity, but it also uncovered disappointing results from the LEZ itself. While on-the-ground air quality did improve incrementally, the change was so small that it did not have any effect on the children’s lungs.

An eye-opening study

Published in the online journal The Lancet: Public Health, the study followed 2,164 children aged between eight and nine years old in central London. There were two different observational periods: just after the LEZ was initially introduced from 2009 to 2010, and then after its controls were tightened between 2013 and 2014. Specifically, the study was looking for links between lung performance in the children and higher levels of NO2.

Their results showed that when NO2 concentrations were above the legal threshold, the lung capacity of the child subjects decreased by approximately 5%. This remained true for both time windows, despite the fact that pollution was reduced by 1 or 2 micrograms per cubic metre after the introduction of the LEZ. Despite this small progress, the streets in question were still found to have concentrations of NO2 43% above the legal limit.

Mounting evidence

This may be the first study to focus on the impact of a measure brought in to limit the impact of vehicular emissions from diesel cars on schoolchildren, but it’s far from the first to draw links between air pollution and adverse effects on young lungs. Late last year, a report from the University of Southern California found a correlation between poor air quality and childhood obesity, while earlier in 2018 another American study drew parallels between pollution and high blood pressure in children.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study from Sweden found a causal link between poor air quality and mental illness in young people, underlining the grave and multifaceted risks that air pollution poses to the next generation. Given that our lungs continue to grow and develop until adulthood, any damage sustained to them prior to that time can cause serious health complications in later life.

An apathetic government

Despite these concerning conclusions, the incumbent UK government has done little to assuage public fears or improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution. Its latest proposals to address the problem were dubbed “pitiful” by environmental law firm ClientEarth, who have now successfully taken the government to court on three different occasions over their inaction.

“This new study reveals the terrible legacy of successive governments’ failure to act over illegal levels of air pollution,” explained Andrea Lee, a lawyer for ClientEarth. “We need ministers to implement emergency measures to tackle pollution around schools and nurseries and fund the move to cleaner forms of transport, not wash their hands of the problem and leave it for local government to sort out.”

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