Air quality is probably the last thing on your mind right now. There’s a birth to prepare for, onesies and nappies to buy, and a home to kit out for your new arrival. Few could blame you if air pollution and its effects were a million miles away from your thoughts.
In reality, however, air pollution is much closer than you think. Public Health England has declared it the biggest environmental risk to public health, even deadlier than tobacco smoke or road traffic accidents.
Worse, it causes children the most harm - but is this a real surprise?
A child’s lungs are fragile and immature, after all. They breathe more frequently. They spend longer near the ground, often in pushchairs waiting at busy crossings and school gates, where pollution is densest. In Birmingham, for example, a national transport hub, air pollution cuts a child’s life expectancy by six months.
The damage may even start in the womb. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution exposes pregnant women to a greater risk of premature births and underweight babies. Later, it can stunt the child’s cognitive development, cause respiratory illness, cancer, and in the worst cases, death.
So what’s the culprit? And what can you do about it?
By far the biggest source of air pollution is the combustion of fossil fuels. They emit a who’s who of deadly pollutants, including particulate matter, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, benzene, ammonia, and lead. Although the government has pledged to cut these emissions by 2030, there are still at least 2,000 places in the UK where air pollution risks you and your children’s health.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. In just two minutes, you can start making changes that improve the air your family breathes. Besides common-sense measures like avoiding rush-hour pollution hotspots (busy roads, and so on), monitoring general air quality, and covering your baby’s pushchair, you can do even greater good reducing your own contribution.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by switching to renewable energy. Fossil-fuel power generation is the UK’s largest source of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, as well as one of the main contributors of particulate matter. Your current supplier may generate some or all of its energy from coal or gas, so changing to clean energy neutralises a large component of your pollution footprint. This not only leaves cleaner air for you and your family but the rest of the UK, too.
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