RCPCH responds to UNICEF air pollution research

UK children are exposed to more than 60% of their daily air pollution intake during the school run and while at school, new research has shown today.

The study, by Unicef UK and Queen Mary University of London, suggests that exposure is lowest when children are at home.

Unicef UK warns that these peak periods of exposure are damaging the health of thousands of schoolchildren across the UK, despite accounting for only 40% of their time each day. This worrying trend provides further evidence of the urgent need for Government action to address children’s vulnerability to toxic air, when and where it is most harmful.

Responding to the report, Professor Jonathan Grigg of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

"Air pollution is detrimental to all health but it can have major implications on the developing child. Research suggests early exposure increases the risk of asthma and lung infections and these can be fatal.

"More than half of the UK’s entire transport system uses diesel - buses, vans and lorries, forms of water transport, trains, and construction and farm machinery. To help protect children’s health we must promote alternatives.

"The Government, employers and schools must encourage and facilitate better use of public transport and active travel options like walking, cycling or scooting to school. To do this safely, cycle networks must be expanded and spaces away from traffic developed so children and their parents can choose walking and cycling over their car without the fear of pollution and its invisible harms deterring them.”

The study focuses on black carbon, a form of particulate matter. These tiny particles are the most dangerous pollutant for our health due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream and potentially the brain. For babies and children, exposure during these critical stages of development can stunt their lung and brain growth and cause life-long respiratory conditions, such as asthma.