Four million children around the world develop asthma every year due to traffic pollution, a large study has estimated.
Exposure to nitrogen dioxide, largely from road transport, is thought to be behind 38,000 new cases in the UK and 240,000 in the US.
The global survey ranked the UK as the 29th worst of 194 countries for the number of children who develop asthma due to traffic pollution.
The US placed the 22nd while Australia became 64th, according to the study published in a prestigious medical journal.
Charities have warned that the findings provide further evidence that toxic fumes endanger tens of thousands of children from potentially fatal asthma attacks.
The global survey ranked the UK as the 29th worst of 194 countries for the number of children who develop asthma due to traffic pollution. The US placed the 22nd while Australia became 64th, according to the study published in a prestigious medical journal
Researchers found 19 percent of young asthma cases – from 1 to 18 years – in the UK and the US due to nitrogen dioxide pollution.
This rose to nearly a third in London (29 percent) where pollution is highest, according to the study published in The Lancet Planetary Health.
In the UK there were the equivalent of 280 new cases per year per 100,000 children – compared to 550 in Kuwait, which scores the worst.
For comparison: the figure was 300 in the US and 190 in Australia, according to the George Washington University team.
Another ranking of the percentage of diagnoses associated with exposure to nitrogen dioxide was found to be South Korea at the top, with nearly a third (31 percent).
It was followed by Kuwait (30 percent), Qatar (30 percent), United Arab Emirates (30 percent) and Bahrain (26 percent).
WHAT IS ASTMA?
Asthma is a common but incurable condition that affects the small tubes in the lungs.
It can cause them to become inflamed or swell, which limits the airways and makes it harder to breathe.
The condition affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood. Symptoms may improve or even disappear as children get older, but may return to adulthood.
Symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, tight chest and cough, and these can get worse during an asthma attack.
Treatment usually includes medication that is inhaled to calm the lungs.
Triggers for the condition are allergies, dust, air pollution, exercise and infections such as the cold or flu.
If you think you or your child have asthma, you should see a doctor, as this can develop into more serious complications such as fatigue or lung infections.
While India scores low for nitric oxide, the authors suggest that the levels of other pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone and carbon monoxide are higher.
Dr. Samantha Walker from Asthma UK said: ‘Polluted air is a major public health threat and affects an estimated half a million children with asthma in the UK.
‘Worrying, this research confirms existing research that shows that children who breathe toxic air from traffic fumes have hampered lung growth and are at risk of developing asthma.
Asthma cases in children have increased steadily since the 1950s, making it the most common disease in children worldwide.
Experts are divided on what actually makes people asthmatic, but exposure to air pollution in childhood increases the risk of damaging the lungs.
Although various pollutants may be responsible for air pollution in traffic, earlier research suggests that exposure to nitrogen dioxide may be crucial.
Researchers used global data on nitrogen dioxide concentration and asthma incidence to estimate the number of new cases that could be related to traffic pollution.
The road outside the Earl’s Court tube station in Kensington, London, is the most polluted in the country, according to research by Friends of the Earth.
CONTAMINATION LEVELS ILLEGAL IN THE MOST UK MONITORING ZONES
Air pollution in the UK was labeled a “national shame” in September.
Figures for 2017 showed that 37 of the 43 air quality zones in the UK had illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, the same number as the previous year.
Annual average levels of the pollutant from exhaust gasses fell in most places, government figures revealed and ClientEarth environmental legislation.
But levels are still more than double the legal limit in Greater London and also well above the limit in areas such as South Wales, West Midlands, Glasgow and Greater Manchester.
Brighton, Worthing and Littlehampton in West Sussex – an area that was legally declared last year – again crawled to just below the threshold, the statistics show.
The UK has exceeded EU limit values for nitrogen dioxide pollution, much of which comes from diesel vehicles, since the rules came into force in 2010.
Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK and is related to health issues, from childhood diseases to heart disease and even dementia.
NHS data show that there were more than 77,000 hospital admissions for asthma last year, with an estimated 1,500 deaths.
The latest findings will be particularly worrying as the UK has one of the worst mortality rates in Europe, despite the fact that two-thirds are considered preventable.
Three quarters of the cases were found to be in cities, but the level of pollutants often remained under the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Despite air pollution as ‘a major environmental risk to health’, more than nine out of ten cases of asthma occurred in areas where traffic pollution was below the limit of 21 parts per billion.
Senior author Susan Anenberg, George Washington University, said the guidelines need to be changed urgently.
She said: “Our findings suggest that the WHO guideline for annual average NO2 concentrations may need to be revised and that traffic emissions should be an objective to limit exposure.”
The findings come in the same week when London introduced an ultra-low emission zone to clean up the toxic air of the capital.
Many owners bought diesels because of tax breaks that were given when they were seen as a better choice for the environment.
But now drivers of diesel cars older than four years – and most petrol cars older than 13 years – are charged £ 12.50 a day to enter or drive around central London – in addition to the £ 11.50 congestion charge.
Charities insist that air pollution destroys children’s lives in the UK, not just London, and called on the government to do more to lower levels.
Dr. Penny Woods, managing director of the British Lung Foundation, said: “We used to think that the only real danger for children was the threat of a car accident.
‘Now we can see that there is an equally fatal risk; inhaling illegal levels of air pollution and getting a respiratory disease such as asthma, or growing up to smaller, weaker lungs.
“Air pollution is invisible, so it’s easy to ignore – but studies like this make it clear that toxic air is an urgent threat and we need to take action.”
THE WORST 10 AREAS OF AIR POLLUTION IN THE UK
UK locations ranked by annual average NO2 level (in µg / m3) – the target is 40ug / m3:
1. Earls Court Station, Kensington & Chelsea, London – 129.5
2. Junction North Circular Rd / Chartley Avenue, Brent, London – 115.39
3. IKEA, Hut, North Circular Road, Brent, London – 102.1
4. Neville Street (entrance NW tunnel), Leeds – 99
5. Pine tree closed, Hickleton, Doncaster – 96
6. Kensington H St / Kensington Church St, London – 94.5
7. Euston Road, Camden, London – 92.45
8. Beach, City of Westminster, London – 92
9. High Street, Harlesden, Brent, London – 91.83
10. Haddon Hall, Tower Bridge Road, Southwark, London – 90.79
|country||raid||Incidence * (per 100k children)||Percentage of total incidence|
|United Arab Emirates||9500||460||30|
|Trinidad and Tobago||700||210||7|
|Antigua and Barbuda||38||140||5|
|Virgin Islands, USA||34||130||4.4|
|Papua New Guinea||3000||93||3.5|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||680||90||10|
|Democratic Republic of Congo||32,000||81||3.9|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||19||57||2|
|Federated States of Micronesia||3||6.4||0.26|
|Sao Tome and Principe||3||3.3||0.25|
|northern Mariana islands||0||0||0|