Friday, January 26, 2007

Air pollution impairs children's lung development

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Children living and going to school within a third of a mile of the busy Wells Rd and Bath Rd in Knowle and elsewhere are seriously at risk of impaired lung development, according to the latest research published in The Lancet. The areas in and around these busy, congested roads have long struggled to meet decent air quality standards. Many other parts of Bristol will also fall into this category.

The US study, which examined the lung function of 3,677 children annually from the age of 10 until they reached 18 when the lungs are fully developed, showed that children who lived within 500 metres of a major road had lung impairment. Children who lived 1500 metres or more away had less impairment, even when factors such as smoking in the home were taken into account.

Its already known that toxic traffic fumes can trigger asthma attacks. The research suggests pollution can stop lungs from growing to their full potential - whether children are otherwise healthy or not.

There's no doubt that fumes from Bristol's very heavy traffic are the number one cause of the air pollution and subsequent childhood health problems, though scientists do not know exactly how air pollution does the damage yet. They do believe however, that lung inflammation in response to daily irritation by air pollutants is a factor. There is accumulating knowledge that the chemicals in the exhaust emissions of cars and lorries adversely affects lung development in the first eight or so years of life, probably through their powerful oxidant effect. Highly reactive oxygen molecules, free radicals, can damage cells and DNA.

Our central and local government has consistently failed to tackle the root causes of air pollution, traffic congestion in particular. The area where I live in Knowle is a very good example of this fact and is far from being the only area suffering. Whilst parents who read about this will be very concerned, all the government spokeswoman said on the issue was that they would consider the evidence and whether further investigations were needed. Further investigations are all very well but in the meantime children's health suffers on a daily basis. What we need is less talk and more action get us all walking, cycling and using public transport, instead of wasteful, inefficient and unhealthy car use. This means leadership eg on congestion charging, local rail, bus fares and quality of service, and putting your money where your mouth is. Dont hold your breath though - we haven't seen this for a long time!