Researchers have looked at the impact of tiny particulates given off by vehicle exhausts, wood burning and industry on the nation’s lung health – and found that they cause as many as 44,895 new cases a year in children aged 5 to 14.
‘Air pollution is contributing substantially to the burden of paediatric asthma’ – Haneen Khreis
Nearly 7 per cent of new UK asthma cases, or 10,400 a year, could be prevented if the UK brought pollution down to World Health Organisation air quality guidelines across the country – as Michael Gove pledged to do last month, just before switching from Environment Secretary to Cabinet Office minister, the researchers found.
“Air pollution is contributing substantially to the burden of paediatric asthma,” said lead author Haneen Khreis, of the Texas A&M Transportation institute.
“These impacts are largely preventable and there are numerous policy measures which can reduce the ambient levels of, and children’s exposures to, outdoor air pollution. We can and should do something about it,” she said.
‘Disgusting and unacceptable’
Asthma UK said it is vital that adults and children with asthma get help with their inhaler technique
Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “This study shows a strong link between air pollution and children who develop asthma.”
“The fact that the air in our towns and cities could be giving children a lifelong and potentially life-threatening illness is disgusting and simply unacceptable. Now is the time for truly bold action, not vague, barely-there policies,” she said.
The effect of air pollution on lung health is slightly worse than the UK across Europe as a whole, where so-called PM2.5 particulates cause up to a third of new childhood asthma cases on average, the research finds.
Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children. In the UK, 1.1 million children and 4.3 million adults are receiving treatment for asthma.
Every 10 seconds someone is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack in the UK, while three people die from an attack every day.
The study is published in the European Respiratory Journal and also involved the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.
It is the latest in a series of concerning studies looking at the health implications of air pollution.
Last month, researchers from the University of Leicester found that air pollution will prematurely age the lungs of the average Briton by more than four years during their lifetime, thereby raising the risks of chronic lung disease.
In March, researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany revealed that air pollution causes 64,000 early deaths in the UK every year – far more than previously feared, according to research.
And last year, the British Lung Foundation warned that air pollution poses as big a threat to health as obesity and needs to be taken just as seriously, following dramatic research linking particulates to heart disease.