The evidence is clear on the scale of harm from air pollution. It is the largest environmental risk to the public’s health in the UK with:
- estimates of between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths each year attributed to human-made air pollution
- a close association with cardiovascular and respiratory disease including lung cancer
- emerging evidence that other organs may also be affected, with possible effects on dementia, low birth weight and diabetes
- emerging evidence that children in their early years are especially at risk, including asthma and poorer lung development (PHE Review of Interventions, p. 7)
The report argues that it is better to reduce pollution at source than to attempt to mitigate the consequences. Successful strategies to reduce air pollution require a coherent approach, with everyone having a role to play to improve air quality. Planning for active travel is a vital intervention to protect our health.
The report draws particular attention to the impact of air pollution on children, stating that:
Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. Exposure to air pollution in early life can have a long-lasting effect on lung function. There is evidence that the process of normal lung function growth in children is suppressed by long-term exposure to air pollution. Throughout childhood, there is a natural development of lung function and maximising this is important, as low lung function leads to less reserve if lung disease develops.
We therefore recommend taking a particularly focused approach on reducing the impact of air pollution on children. This would suggest that local authorities, as part of their local air quality management assessments, consider a range of interventions including working with children and their parents to implement no-idling zones outside schools, make it easy for children to walk or cycle to school and increase public awareness in relation to air pollution and children. This will reduce air pollution in the vicinity of schools and reducing children’s exposure accordingly. (PHE, Review of interventions, pp. 14-15, emphasis ours)
The Guardian report is here, The Independent report is here and the BBC report, including a useful video, is here.