More than 90% of child health experts say public awareness about the dangers of air pollution in the UK is “worryingly low”.
A new report from the charity UNICEF is calling on the government to do more to reduce pollution to acceptable levels and put children’s health at the centre of its plans.
It’s estimated up to 38,000 people die prematurely every year because of exposure to man-made pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.
UNICEF worked with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health on the report which also found:
:: 88% of doctors warn that toxic air is already causing health problems for children in their region
:: More than 90% feel the government should be prioritising action on air pollution now
Professor Jonathan Grigg told Sky News part of the problem in raising awareness about air pollution is the fact people cannot physically see it.
He said: “The emissions that we see from the road are invisible, you can’t smell or taste them but they’re having major effects on children’s health across their life course, from when they’re in the womb where the growth of the foetus is reduced to increasing the risk of pneumonia to new onset asthma.
“If you get asthma it makes it severe and even in healthy children reduced lung growth so children who become then adults have lower lung function than they should have,” he added.
UNICEF says everyday one in three children are breathing in dangerous levels of air pollution which can cause respiratory problems.
The city of Bath suffers from poor air quality in some areas – in part due to its topography.
Sally Merrett, who lives in the city, took drastic action over concerns she had about pollution on the walk to school.
Her eight-year-old daughter Ruby had previously suffered with a heart condition and Sally decided to change schools to avoid breathing in car fumes on the busy road they had to walk along.
Ms Merrett told Sky News: “I couldn’t bear to take Ruby and her baby sister down this road every single day.
“You just can’t get away from it. You’re stuck there, you can taste and smell the pollution, there’s a lot of diesel vehicles coming past with particulate matter and I just really worry about their health today and in the future.”
Ruby says she doesn’t miss the old walk.
“The more you stood there the more you could taste it, feel it… it tasted a bit like how you would imagine tarmac to taste,” she said.
Bath is considering introducing a £9-a-day charge for some drivers to enter a low emission zone.
Last month the government published its Clean Air Strategy for 2019, which includes giving more power to local authorities to tackle toxic air hotspots.
UNICEF says it wants the government to set legally binding targets to meet World Health Organisation recommended limit values for particulate matter by the 2030s.
It also wants it to set up a Little Lungs Fund to ring-fence funding to protect children and young people from toxic air.