A short, simple factsheet on the impacts of traffic pollution on children’s health
By George Monbiot, published on monbiot.com, 5th March 2017
I wrote this short factsheet for a local school suffering high levels of air pollution, that are caused in part by the parents, sometimes driving their children just 100 metres up the road. Part of the problem is that many people are unaware of the link between pollution and health issues.
When I looked for a summary – in clear and simple language, that most parents can quickly understand – of the damage that traffic pollution can do to children, I could not find one. Nor could the transport campaigns I consulted. So I decided to write my own.
Please feel free to reproduce it, adapt it and use it as you wish. Please also let me know whether and how it can be improved.
If you find it useful, you might like to ask your school to circulate it among the parents by email or on social media, or to print it out and stick it in places (such as classroom doors) where it is likely to be seen.
If we could circulate such materials widely among schools, we could make a material difference to the health of our children (and the rest of the population).
What Traffic Fumes Do to Our Children
Every year, we discover more about the harm being done to our children by the fumes that cars and other vehicles produce.
The more we learn, the worse it looks. In polluted places, the damage to their health can be very serious.
Here is what we now know about the harm that traffic pollution can do to children:
It can damage the growth of their lungs. This means that the lungs of children who have been affected don’t work so well. The damage can last for the rest of their lives.
It raises the risk of asthma and allergies. For children who already have asthma, pollution can make it worse.
It can damage the development of their brains. Air pollution can reduce children’s intelligence, making it harder for them to learn.
It can change their behaviour and reduce their happiness. Air pollution has been linked to anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Disorder.
It raises the risk of heart disease later in their lives.
It can cause cancer, both in children and when they become adults.
Unborn children can also be affected by the pollution their mothers breathe. Air pollution is linked to babies being born prematurely and small.
Pollution inside your car can be much worse than pollution outside, because the fumes are concentrated in the small space.
By driving them to school and by sitting in our cars with the engines idling, we are helping to poison our own children.
We don’t mean to do this to our children. But once we know how much we are hurting them, we can stop it, by changing the way we travel. Walking and cycling are ideal.
Groups like Living Streets can help schools to turn this around. Together we can protect our children from harm.
The information sources for this factsheet can be found at https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2016/6/EHP299.acco.pdf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26825441, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001792, https://www.rcplo ndon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution, https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306770/, http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/air-pollution/children-and-air-pollution.html and https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/05/the-truth-about-londons-air-pollution