Children who live near busy roads in Bristol may have stunted lung growth, new research suggests.
A team from King’s College London looked at the health effects of air pollution on people living within 50 metres of a major road in nine big UK cities.
Their findings, released today suggest that roadside air pollution can stunt children’s lung growth, make asthmatic children more likely to cough, and raise people’s risk of heart attack, stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer.
Jo Chesterman, who lives in St George’s near the A420 and is involved in the St George’s Better Breathing Group said: "These aren’t just statistics.
"My young daughter has severe asthma, which means she has to regularly use an inhaler, which I think is triggered because we walk to school through toxic pollution.
"That I live in a time where cars are more important than people breaks my heart. We need politicians to stop talking about this and take decisive action."
In Bristol, children living near busy roads are predicted to have five per cent less lung growth than children living in the city’s quieter, less polluted streets, the researchers found.
Children with asthmatic symptoms living by a major road in Bristol may also be five per cent more likely to suffer 'bronchitic symptoms' such as cough and phlegm.
The chance of ending up in hospital with a stroke is three per cent higher if you live near a busy road in the city, and the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease goes up by eight per cent.
The study did not have precise figures for Bristol when it came to the risk of heart attack or lung cancer.
But, in London, roadside air pollution was found to drive up the long-term risk of having a heart attack out of hospital by three per cent and to contribute to a 10 per cent greater chance of developing lung cancer.
The new figures, released by a coalition of 15 health and environment NGOs, follow a report showing that air pollution contributes to the premature death of five Bristolians every week.
Meanwhile, Bristol is waiting to hear from the government on its outline plans to reduce toxic levels of NO2 in the city.
Bristol City Council has proposed introducing a ban on privately owned diesel vehicles in the inner city and a wider charging zone for older, more polluting buses, taxis and other commercial vehicles.
The King’s College team found that cutting air pollution in Bristol by one fifth could, over the long term: increase children’s lung capacity by around two per cent contribute to 94 fewer asthmatic children with bronchitic symptoms each year result in 62 fewer cases of coronary heart disease each year, and decrease lung cancer cases by six per cent.
Dr Rosa Roberts, a psychiatrist who works at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, said: "Bristol is a highly polluted city.
"The current toxic levels of air pollution are leading to stunted lung growth in children, poor mental health and thousands of preventable deaths nationwide.
"In Bristol, our [elected] mayor and local councils are beginning to make some positive changes, such as banning diesel cars from the city centre.
"However to make a real difference and truly protect our futures, we need much bigger and more far-reaching actions right now."
The government has ordered 24 local authorities, including Bristol, to reduce their nitrogen dioxide levels to within legal limits as quickly as possible.
But UK’s legal limits for particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) are still more than double those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
PM2.5 are tiny particles released mainly by wood smoke, coal burning, and industrial combustion. They can lodge in people’s lungs and cause very serious health conditions.
The coalition behind today’s report is calling on all political parties to commit to adopting a legally-binding target to meet WHO guidelines for PM2.5 pollution by 2030.
The coalition includes environmental law firm ClientEarth, the British Lung Foundation, and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change which represents 650,000 health professionals in the NHS.
The King’s College report included findings from 13 cities across the UK, France and Poland.
By Amanda Cameron, local democracy reporting service