92% of leading UK health professionals say: public is not aware how air pollution is harming children – Are you?

In a recent survey of leading health professionals, carried out by UNICEF and the Royal College of Pediatrics, 9 in 10 said air pollution was harming children in their areas and the public was often not aware of the seriousness.

Mike Penrose, the executive director of Unicef, which carried out the work, even called it a public health emergency: ‘Children have a fundamental right to grow up in a clean and safe environment that gives them the best possible start in life. The persistent breaches of air pollution limits across the UK are an unacceptable violation of this’ 

Young children are more vulnerable to airborne pollutants than adults because of their organs, immune and neural systems still developing. They are breathing in fine particle pollution at levels which are higher than the annual WHO guidelines of 20μg/m3 (PM10) and 10μg/m3 (PM2.5) respectively. External particulate pollution is primarily a product of diesel vehicles, tyre and brake dust, and solid fuel-burning (see previous post on wood buring stoves).

Numerous studies published over the last years have confirmed various health impacts in particular on children including:

  • Detrimental effects on teenage mental health,
  • Reduction in intelligence among children growing up in polluted areas
  • Record number of asthma deaths.
  • Increases risk of obesity
  • Quadruples chance of depression
  • Stunts children lung growth
  • As bad as smoking in increasing risk of miscarriage

Air pollution is estimated to cost the NHS billions of tax payers money every year.

But even designers are too often unaware how their design decisions impact on the indoor environment and on their clients health.

A study by  the Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering at University College London and the University of Cambridge chemistry department, examined five modern, new built primaries and one nursery and found that children in London schools are being exposed to higher levels of damaging air pollution inside the classroom than outside. The report said a significant level of air pollution indoors in urban areas was due to outdoor pollution penetrating the buildings but can also come from inside a building itself.

Wellbeing starts at home. 90% of our time we spent indoors, more than 30% in our homes and bedrooms. Modern construction has changed and often the air quality within our homes is worse than the outside air – more stringent energy requirements restrict ventilation in new homes; excessive use of plastics in construction impact on air quality; for example, standard paints can contain more than 150 different petrochemical substances, some of which have been proven carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic.

Researchers from Noaa (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) compared typical air contamination from traffic with laboratory tests for pollution from household goods, toiletry and building products; they found indoor contamination with critical substances can be as high as 10 times the external contamination level of inner city environments.

For decades asthma rates have been on the rise and today the UK has the highest asthma rate among children worldwide. Still, UK regulation around air quality, construction products, condensation and mould lack behind countries like Germany, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries.

If you are interested in finding out more about how to create healthier, more productive and more profitable environments for you and/or your clients, join us at the next Building Biology seminar in Brighton https://www.greenregister.org.uk/civicrm/event/info?id=437

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