In October of 2018, a UK report discovered that over 2,000 health centers were located in areas that exceed the World Health Organization’s fine particulate matter limit.
This means that people who seek medical care in these 2,000 health centers are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution.
Unfortunately, children are not excluded from this exposure. In fact, two of the largest children’s hospitals in the UK are located in regions with unsafe air pollution levels.
But why is air pollution so devastating in the UK? What are the effects on children?
Keep reading to learn why air pollution in the UK is a serious threat to children.
What is Air Pollution?
Air pollution is a mixture of harmful particles and gases found in the air/atmosphere. Air pollution includes toxic gases, car exhaust fumes, and toxins released during commercial and industrial processes.
If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution, you may find it difficult to escape the toxins. Breathing in your home, car, and other buildings will likely become compromised.
This means that air pollution doesn’t only affect the quality of air when you are outside, but also when you spend time indoors.
WHO Limits on Air Pollution
The World Health Organization sets guideline levels of air pollution. They set these levels based on when certain particulates become too concentrated and can cause negative effects on humans.
In 2016, 91% of the world’s population was living in areas where the WHO air pollution guidelines were not being met. Even worse, 4.2 million deaths were attributed to outdoor air pollution in 2016.
Levels of Air Pollution in the UK
As mentioned previously, a 2018 report discovered that over 2,000 health centers in the UK resided in areas where air pollution levels exceeded the WHO’s guideline levels.
This equates to 1 in 3 GP surgery centers and 1 in 4 hospitals in England that reside in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.
Currently, the UK’s legal limits on a leading particulate (PM2.5) are twice that of the WHO’s recommendation level. Scientists and lawmakers are hoping to decrease this limit and promote public health.
Adopting the WHO’s limits can encourage policymakers to put caps on air pollution levels, and regulate businesses and industries that generate the most pollution.
Effects of Air Pollution on Children
Exposure to air pollution is detrimental to all humans, but the most vulnerable are the elderly, pregnant women, and children. With weakened immune systems, their bodies struggle against pollutants and some side effects may occur.
For example, exposure to high levels of air pollution before a child is even born can lead to premature birth and low birth weight.
Children, in particular, breathe more than adults and are generally more active, which means they inhale greater levels of air pollutants. Because their lungs are not fully developed, this greater level of exposure is even more harmful to children.
Here are some other effects of air pollution on children:
- Exposure to air pollution is linked to a decrease in intelligence.
- More asthma attacks: every 20 minutes, a child in the UK is admitted to the hospital for an asthma attack
- Lack of lung functionality, and decreased lung capacity
- Wheezing and coughing
- Lung cancer
How to Protect Children from Air Pollution
Unfortunately, most of us can do very little in minimizing the amount of ambient, or outdoor, air pollution. Besides voting for better environmental policies, driving less, and not smoking, most of the outdoor air pollution is out of our control.
However, protecting children from the harmful effects of air pollution is vital. This includes both before and after birth. Here are a few ways you can protect your children:
Parents should monitor air quality levels during their pregnancy. If high levels of air pollution are expected, precautions should be taken to limit exposure to airborne toxins. These include:
- minimizing time outdoors
- wearing face masks or other filtering devices
- minimizing time in cities/regions of high air pollution levels
At 3 years old, a child’s lungs start to resemble those of an adult. However, our lungs do not fully mature until we reach about 20-25 years of age. Here are some ways to protect your children from air pollution as they grow:
- Avoid going outdoors when high levels of air pollution are expected (such as fire season)
- Install an air filter that can filter pollutants before they enter your home
- Purchase an air purifier
- Clean your home often, removing dust, pollen, and dander that typically irritate lungs
- Consider replacing rugs and carpeting with hardwoods or tile. Fabric sources hold allergens and pollutants, releasing them into the air with each step
- Avoid harsh chemicals and cleaning products
- Grow air-filtering plants indoors
The above tips are just a few ways to protect your children and their lungs from the harmful effects of air pollution. Generally, avoid going outdoors when high levels of pollution are expected, and find ways to purify the air inside your home.
Air pollution in the UK is at dangerous levels, sending a child to the hospital every 20 minutes with an asthma attack.
While we can do very little about the ambient air pollution we’re exposed to outdoors, we can certainly try to protect our children from pollutants indoors.
The above list includes just a few ways you can improve the air quality in your home, so your whole family is breathing better.
For more resources on providing the cleanest air and water to your family, visit our blog today.