Written by Debra Morrall
Our children are the future of our world but pollution could be a distinguishing factor in changing the health of a generation, forever. We don’t yet fully know the effects of long term exposure to particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, complex chemicals such as VOC’s, formaldehyde and benzene to name but a few, but all the current indicators show that effects could include diminished breathing capacity, increased fatigue and other chronic symptoms relating to general health and wellbeing.
The most lethal of all airborne pollutants fall into three categories, particulate matter, ground level ozone and nitrogen dioxide, which are described as such:
- Particulate matter (PMs). The most dangerous tiny particles of air pollution can penetrate deep into our lungs, and can even get into the bloodstream. Particulates worsen heart and lung disease. Fine particle air pollution is responsible for 29,000 early deaths a year in the UK.
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO2). A toxic gas that you might sometimes notice as an orange haze over a city. High levels of NO2 can cause a flare-up of asthma or symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing.
- Ground level ozone (O3). Ground level or “bad” ozone created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. It can irritate the eyes, nose and throat.
We care about what happens to our children and more and more we are noticing when our children are exposed to pollution, on the school run, playing in the playground at school or outside their home, running, walking, existing, all of within a breathe of airborne pollutants.
Every year in the UK “around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, which plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day. These health challenges include cancer, asthma, strokes and heart failure, heart disease and diabetes, Vitamin D deficiency and altered immunity. In an adult with fully formed lungs, these illnesses are hard to fight, in a small child with developing organs, they could be the singular factor that changes the long term course of their health or even kills them.
It is well documented that children that grow up in highly polluted areas have 10% less lung capacity than those with less exposure to pollution, a problem that exists all across Europe.
So, what can we do to protect our children from air pollution?
- Walk, run jump, hop skip, anything really, just leave the car at home.
- Stay away from the road edge when walking, this is where the most polluted bit of the street lies. Avoid busy routes when walking or cycling.
- Spend as much time as you can outdoors, in green, open spaces.
- Remove unnecessary pollutants from your home environment, including toxic cleaning materials and ordinary household paint.
- Educate your children about air quality so the cycle ends now.
Greater knowledge leads to greater power and orchestrating change is the only real way forward. As adults we need to think about the cars we buy, the purchasing choices we make when it comes to cleaning materials, beauty products, carpets and soft furnishings and the paint we use to decorate our homes. We need to instigate change and invest in our planet and the future health of all children.