Effects of Air Quality on Child Development and What the Government is Doing to Tackle the Issue

It goes without saying that there are a growing number of vehicles on the road not to mention the population in the UK is also on the rise.

Here on Swindon 24 we have already noted how the closeness of homes to roads means that prevailing winds cannot clear the nitrogen dioxide, which in turns causes it to be trapped and exceed safe levels. While air quality affects everyone, the most vulnerable demographic are children who breathe harmful levels of air pollution every day. High air pollution is linked to various birth defects and increases the risk of illness and disease. Yet, government initiatives to tackle this growing problem and prevent health issues in the long-term have been lacklustre at best.

Responding to the Governments’ Clean Air Strategy issued last month, a report was published which notes that “around one in three children in the UK live in areas with unsafe levels of toxic air and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.” This in turn means a greater risk of children developing asthma or lung infections, which can be fatal. The charity Clean Air Day UK explains how exposure to concentrated levels of air pollution during pregnancy and post pregnancy can also affect a baby’s lung function development, increases the risk of bacterial pneumonia and long-term respiratory symptoms. Because children’s lungs and immune system are still in the developing stages, air quality has a far more significant effect on their health than it does on adults.

The report also remarks that the government’s targets for reducing pollution fall short of international recommendations and lack “ambition on tackling toxic air.” The charity also urged UK officials to try and meet World Health Organization (WHO) numbers for dangerous levels of air pollutants and meet existing targets for reducing nitrogen dioxide. In an interview with The Guardian, the executive director of UNICEF UK, Mike Penrose, exclaimed that “children have a fundamental right to grow up in a clean and safe environment.” Non-profit Save the Children explain that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a “legally binding international agreement” that every child’s right to survival and basic needs to reach their full potential should be met. And as part of these inalienable rights, is access to clean air and a clean environment, which will allow them to grow up healthy.

Penrose further states that in the UK there are more children suffering respiratory complications than anywhere else in Europe. London particularly, according to Leslie Hook and Steven Bernard of the Financial Times, has suffered from illegally high levels of air pollution for the past nine years. High levels of nitrogen dioxide, from diesel vehicles, which react with sunlight during the hot summer months cause a surge in ozone levels.

Meanwhile, air quality in Swindon remains relatively good compared with other areas in the UK. Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades with Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides having been drastically reduced. Despite this, however, poor air persists in many areas of the country and continues to affect children’s health and the environment.