Car pollution damaging children's lungs

Health experts warn parents to switch off their car engines to protect children's health on the school run.

Friday, 25th August 2017, 4:09 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:17 pm

The government’s former chief scientific adviser warned recently that parents who drive their children to school are exposing them to “dangerous” levels of pollution because fumes could get inside cars, even if all the windows were closed.

As Professor Sir David King pointed out, "new legislation to ban smoking in cars with children gained widespread support, so why are we still happy for our children to breathe in toxic emissions in the back of our cars?”

Congested roads outside schools lead to cars sitting in traffic for extended periods, resulting in children having increased exposure to car pollution and other hazards.

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“If more drivers knew the damage they could be doing to their children, I think they’d think twice about getting in the car.

“You may be driving a cleaner vehicle but your children are sitting in a box collecting toxic gases from all the vehicles around you," added King, who now advises the British Lung Foundation.

As well as wasting fuel (idling for two minutes uses the same amount of petrol as driving one mile), leaving a parked car's engine running for one minute produces enough exhaust emissions containing harmful chemicals to fill 150 balloons. And yet parents are failing to take heed of the warnings.

To try and combat this, the Switch Off And Breathe campaign is waging war on idling, and has urged drivers who are stationary for more than a few minutes to turn off their engines.

Campaign spokesman Tom Burr, said: “Pollutants from emissions have a proven impact on our health and environment. This is something you can stop. With a small change to your driving habits – stopping vehicle idling – you can help protect your own health as well as those around you.”

Every Breath We Take: The Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution, published by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) Working Party on Air Pollution, highlighted the need to take action.

“It should be considered a major public health problem," said Professor Stephen Holgate, chairman of the group. "If we do not act now, our children and generations to follow will be those who suffer."

The report said there was clear evidence that exposure to air pollution as a child can damage the lungs, and increase the risk of potential fatal lung infections. It is known to have an effect on heart health in adult life.

‘Research is beginning to point towards effects on growth, intelligence, asthma, and development of the brain and coordination', said the report.

For more information on the Switch Off and Breathe campaign, go to