How Clean Is Your Air?

Do you live in a pollution hot spot? Did you even consider this when you bought your house? It’s worth thinking about given that 71% of UK cities are recognised to have unsafe levels of particulate air pollution which can significantly affect our health.


Such high levels of pollution mean that one in three of our nations children are at risk of health issues such as poor growth and increased risk of asthma. Complications may start antenatally with increased rates of fetal loss and growth retardation as well as higher rates of pre-term delivery and respiratory death in the postnatal period. Links have even been identified between pollution levels and abnormal brain development.

It is estimated that the combination of outdoor and indoor air pollution account for almost one in 10 deaths in the under five age group due to their direct link with pnuemonia and other respiratory diseases. In London in 1952 weather conditions led to coal smoke being trapped in the Thames valley and a rapid build up of pollution. Infant mortality was doubled during that period and death rates increased for weeks.

But why are children particularly at risk? When you think about it it kind of makes sense. Children breathe faster than adults and take in more air relative to their body weight. Their lungs are still developing and they have frequent viral infections to contend with as well as immature defence mechanisms. 


They are also disproportionately exposed to outdoor pollution as they spend more time outside than adults and often at times of peak pollution (especially in the playground and on the school run). A study by Queen Mary’s University in London identified that children spend 7% of their day travelling to school but receive 15% of their air pollution exposure during this time. 


Due to their short little legs they are often pushed in buggies or walk at the height of exhaust emissions and therefore are exposed to higher concentrations. Sitting in the car doesn’t eliminate the risk either as pollution levels can actually be higher inside vehicles than out due to lack of dispersal of pollution particles. 


As current research suggests that the health benefit of cycling and walking far outweigh the risks of exposure to pollution the optimum solution would be to create clean air networks that promote walking and cycling to school. UNICEF is calling on the government to establish a ring fenced funding pot to help put these measures in place and better understand the issue. 


Children exposed to indoor pollutants such as tobacco smoke are also at higher risk and therefore current smoking cessation measures are also key. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Physicians have established a working group in order to better research the effects of indoor air pollution on child health and plan to publish a report with practical recommendations for the Government on how to mitigate the risk. The British Lung Foundation have also provided some tips on how you can help reduce your own exposure to air pollution (both indoor and out).


Keep an eye out for the Royal College report in Autumn 2019 for more information.


Additional Reading









15th Feb 2019 

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