Did you know that babies in prams and buggies may be breathing in 60 per cent more traffic pollution than the parents pushing them, a study has found? This is because the babies are positioned closer to the ground, nearer to vehicles’ exhaust pipes. The pollutants – toxic ultrafine particles and nitrogen oxides – have the potential to impair brain development in young children, say the researchers.

Scientists from the University of Surrey studied different types of prams and push chairs in relation to their height and width and the airflow around them. Vehicle exhausts usually sit within one metre (3.3 feet) above the road. Infants in prams are positioned between 0.55 metres and 0.85 metres above ground level – making them more likely to inhale toxic fumes than the adults walking behind them. The evidence showed they could be exposed to up to 60 percent more of the pollutants than their parents.
Professor Prashant Kumar, Director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research at the University, said: ‘We know that infants breathe in higher amounts of airborne particles relative to their lung size and body weight compared to adults. What we have proven here is that the height most children travel at while in a pram increases the likelihood of negative impact from air pollution when compared to an adult. When you consider how vulnerable they are because of their tissues, immune systems and brain development at this early stage, it is extremely worrying that they are being exposed to these dangerous levels of pollution.’

Ultrafine particles, chiefly produced by diesel engines, are known to enter the bloodstream via the lungs and accumulate in lymph nodes and brain tissue. They can cause asthma, allergies and respiratory diseases in children. One component of fine particles known as ‘black carbon’- the sooty residue of fossil fuel – has been shown to reduce thinking ability in young children. Nitrogen oxide has previously been linked to inflammation of the airwaves and a greater susceptibility to infection and allergy.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, reviewed evidence from previous research highlighting the pollution risk to infants. It said: ‘A number of studies have assessed the exposure of young children but only a handful has focused on in-pram babies. There’s clearly a need for further studies to develop diverse data sense for in-pram babies’ exposure. Ways of reducing the risk suggested by researchers include tighter control of vehicle emissions, barriers such as roadside hedges to shield pedestrians from pollution and technological innovations that create a clear air source around the child’s mouth and nose.

Dr Stephan Reis, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, said: ‘The paper makes a compelling case for the integrated assessment of both the sources of air pollutant emissions and local individual and behavioural factors contributing to exposure in order to design interventions.’

The government should intervene and pass some sort of legislation to protect our babies from being poisoned in our streets. Pollution must be contained at an acceptable level, which at present is not the case.

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