One in three children growing up in toxic air zones

New analysis by Unicef UK has revealed that one in three children in the UK are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate pollution, the equivalent of 4.5 million children.

Released on Clean Air Day, the figures show that 1.6 million of all children aged five and younger, and 270,000 babies under one living in the most toxic air zones, meaning that young children are being ‘disproportionately impacted’ by harmful levels of the most harmful type of air pollution.

Exposure to particulate matter during this critical stage of development can stunt children’s lung growth, affect brain development and could leave them with long-term health problems such as asthma.

Of the 20 local authorities with the largest proportion of babies living in them, almost three-quarters breach safe levels for particulate matter, with Birmingham, London, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol among the worst affected.

Amy Gibbs, Unicef UK’s Director of Advocacy, said: “We already know that air pollution is harmful, but these findings force us to face a shocking reality about the acute impact on children’s health. Worryingly, one-third of our children could be filling their lungs with toxic air that puts them at risk of serious, long-term health conditions.

“It’s unacceptable that the most vulnerable members of society, who contribute the least to air pollution, are the ones suffering most from its effects. We wouldn’t make our children drink dirty water, so why are we allowing them to breathe dirty air?

“There are practical solutions to protect our children from the harm air pollution can cause. The government must accept this is a children’s health crisis and offer targeted action and funding to reduce their exposure in the most polluted areas. Children should not be forced to breathe toxic air in the areas where they live, learn and play.”

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