Air Clean Up

  • The Effects of Daily Exposure to Air Pollution on Young Lungs

The Effects of Daily Exposure to Air Pollution on Young Lungs

Feb 16 2016 Read 1249 Times

London has long endured a torrid reputation when it comes to air pollution. For the capital city of a highly developed country, it scores very poorly on a global scale, with alarming levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5). Despite measures to try and curb harmful emissions from diesel vehicles, including the introduction of Low Emissions Zones (LEZs) across the capital, no improvement has been shown.

This is especially concerning when considering how such contamination affects the growth and development of young lungs. Last year, a study from the Medical Research Council found that child lung capacity could be reduced by as much as 10% due to frequent exposure to polluted air. This assessment was leant further weight by a recent investigation by Enviro Technology Limited.

Tracking Daily Routine Air Quality

A simple experiment was conducted in Hackney, London, whereby a mother and her three sons were followed on their daily commute to and from school by Enviro Technology’s monitoring van. Shazia Ali-Webber walks her children to school every day and is concerned about how growing levels of pollution could stunt the growth of her child’s lungs; Ian Monsour, of Enviro Technology, took the company’s zero-carbon van, kitted out with £75,000’s worth of monitoring equipment, to assess whether her fears were grounded.

The results? Huge spikes in NO2 levels at Mare Street, a traffic hotspot, and a tripling of pollution at the school gates as parents come and go on their school runs. Even more interestingly, Monsour found that levels of pollution are actually higher inside the car than out due to the close confines of a vehicle.

Clearly, driving to school is bad for the environment on both a communal and individual level. “The public health message is, you can’t hide from air pollution inside a car,” explained Ben Barratt, air quality consultant at King’s College. “We advise the public to leave the car at home whenever possible. This exposes you and your family to lower levels of air pollution, you’re not contributing to the problem, and you’re also getting the benefits of exercise. That’s tackling three of our biggest public health challenges in one go: air quality, climate change and obesity.”

What Can Be Done

As well as leaving the car at home when taking kids to school, parents can also use a variety of apps and online platforms to monitor real-time levels of pollution across the city. This allows them to alter routes and choose lesser-polluted spots to take the kids during recreational hours. This is especially pertinent when it comes to sport, play and exercise, since harder working lungs will take in pollutants at a faster and greater rate.

Avoiding busy roads on commutes can also help to reduce exposure, while an illuminating report surmised that even something as simple as walking on the inside of the pavement rather than the side closest to the street can cut pollution levels by three.

Of course, there is only so much that concerned parents can do. The government, industry and local authorities have a big role to play in improving air quality and reducing transport-related pollution. Although certain measures such as LEZs and the proposed ULEZs are a step in the right direction, their non-effectiveness is clear proof that further action is needed.

What’s more, another recent study found that an alarming 1,000 schools in the nation’s capital are situated just 150m from busy roads – over a third of all centres of learning in London. Forward planning and a little common sense when considering where to place schools, parks and communities centres could work wonders for the damage wrought on young lungs.

Image Source: Pedro Klien

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