Air Pollution And Children: What Parents Need To Know

Including what precautions parents should take.

Children who come from deprived neighbourhoods in London are facing health risks including a high level of air pollution, a study has found.

The study commissioned by the FIA Foundation, an international environmental and road safety charity, found that 85% of schools in the capital worst affected by the UK’s air pollution crisis were disproportionately poor.

“Children from some of London’s most socially deprived areas are not only affected by unacceptable levels of air pollution around their schools, they also face compounding health risks,” said Saul Billingsley, from the FIA Foundation.

ClientEarth has launched its own postcode tool through which parents can find out if their child’s school is one of those on the list.

And in January 2017 figures showed that air pollution had reached high levels in eight regions across the UK.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan reacted to the news at the time, telling the BBC: “This is the highest level of alert and everyone - from the most vulnerable to the physically fit - may need to take precautions to protect themselves.”

So what does this means when it comes to your children?

Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis, head of Public Health England’s environmental change department told HuffPost UK: “While most children will not be affected by short term peaks in ambient air pollution, some individuals, such as those with existing heart or lung conditions, may experience increased symptoms.”

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What is known about how air pollution affects children

Long-term exposure to high air pollution can lead to serious symptoms in children, affecting their respiratory and inflammatory systems, according to Defra.

“Children with asthma may notice that they need to increase their use of reliever medication on days when levels of air pollution are higher than average,” states Defra.

“Children with heart or lung problems are at greater risk of symptoms.”

There is not a great amount of research into how air pollution can affect a child’s health. The NHS cites a 2016 study by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which found that the evidence of harm to unborn babies and the young child was “not as strong as it was for adults”.

The NHS states: “The experts suggest this is because the topic is relatively new and has not been so heavily researched, or that the effects on the baby and child may be subtle and take longer to appear. Damage caused by exposure to pollutants in early childhood may not become apparent until adulthood.”

However, according to the World Resources Institute, children are “more” susceptible to the risks of air pollution because “they breathe at a higher rate than adults.”

“Children are exposed to greater levels of pollution relative to their smaller body weight and are generally more sensitive to their effects,” they explain.

In October 2016, UNICEF released a report stating air pollution kills 600,000 children every year throughout the world. UNICEF executive director, Anthony Lake, said: “Air pollution also hurts children it doesn’t kill, including the unborn.

“Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs, they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains, and, thus, their futures.”

The British Lung Association have also stated: “Older people and children and developing babies are at an increased risk of experiencing symptoms or other harmful effects from breathing in polluted air.”

How to find out the current level of air pollution

You can find out the current level of air pollution in their region by heading to the Defra website. You can click a coloured area on the map to view information. The results are based on the maximum air quality index measured across all stations in each region.

The colour code highlights whether the level is “low”, up to “very high”. Click here to find out what the pollution level is where you live.

To get up-to-date alerts, follow the daily forecast tweets on Twitter.

What parents should do if air pollution is high

Defra advises parents to use the Air Quality Index determine whether they or their children are likely to be at risk from air pollution and to consult their doctor for advice if necessary.

If the pollution is extremely high, parents should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors, with their children - especially if they are experiencing symptoms such as a cough or sore throat.

Dr Vardoulakis supported this advice, and told HuffPost UK: “On occasions where levels are high, children with lung problems should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms.

“Children with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often.

“Anyone, including children, experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors.

“Children with lung problems in areas where very high levels are recorded should avoid strenuous physical activity.”

Defra adds: “Children need not be kept from school or prevented from taking part in games.”

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