Children are at risk of dangerous levels of air pollution in cars because exposure to toxic air is often far higher inside than outside vehicles, a former government chief scientific adviser has warned.
Prof Sir David King, writing for the Guardian, says walking or cycling to school would be much better for children’s health. The warning comes as the UK government faces a third legal defeat for failing to tackle the country’s illegal levels of air pollution. Air pollution is known to damage children’s developing lungs but recent research also indicates it harms children’s ability to learn at school and may damage their DNA.
“Children sitting in the backseat of vehicles are likely to be exposed to dangerous levels [of air pollution],” said King. “You may be driving a cleaner vehicle but your children are sitting in a box collecting toxic gases from all the vehicles around you.”
“The best thing for all our health is to leave our cars behind,” said King, who now advises the British Lung Foundation. “It’s been shown that the health benefits of walking and cycling far outweigh the costs of breathing in pollution. If more drivers knew the damage they could be doing to their children, I think they’d think twice about getting in the car.”
A range of experiments, some as far back as 2001, have shown that drivers inside vehicles are exposed to far higher levels of air pollution than those walking or cycling along the same urban routes.
Prof Stephen Holgate, an asthma expert at Southampton University and chair of the Royal College of Physicians working party on air pollution, said there was enough evidence to tell parents that walking and cycling exposes their children to less air pollution than driving.
“It is nine to 12 times higher inside the car than outside,” he said. “Children are in the back of the car and often the car has the fans on, just sucking the fresh exhaust coming out of the car or lorry in front of them straight into the back of the car.”
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I have to say I didn't know this.
I'm all in favour of more walking and cycling. But even if you walk or cycle you are still exposed to nitrous oxide and various extremely unhealthy particulates. Plus if you cycle you have a much higher risk of accident than if you are driving a car (that's why I stopped cycling--the risks were just too high) And sometimes you simply have to use your car, especially in cities where public transport is bad. Whatever work-arounds we try, the truth is that petrol(gasoline)/diesel cars, lorries, and busses don't just emit carbon dioxide, they emit other toxic muck, which kills people.
The solution is obvious: electric vehicles (EVs). But it's a collective solution, because it's not enough for you to replace your ICE car with an EV, if everybody else continues to use their filthy petrol or diesel cars and lorries. Yes, at the margin we can make a small difference. But we're still breathing in everybody else's toxic waste and getting sick because of it. We have to act as a society to get rid of ICE vehicles, by regulation and tax incentives. The problem is that the Right equates "collective" with "socialist", and refuses to act.
The good news (the topic for my next post) is that the cost of electric cars is falling so fast that within 5 years they will be cheaper than ICEs. So even if the Right drags their feet, the car fleet will start to get cleaner. But it will still take time: average car life is around 10 or 11 years, so even when 100% of new car sales is made up by EVs, it will take a decade after that point for the whole car fleet to be pollution free, unless we offer owners of worn-out old ICEs an incentive to swap their cars for EVs. For me, and for everybody's health, a 100% EV fleet can't come soon enough.