Asthma in children: the damning new evidence we cannot ignore

<preform>* Latest data reveals risk in UK cities<br> * Deadly link to car fumes confirmed</preform>
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Alarming official research provides the first evidence that British schoolchildren are getting asthma from exhaust fumes, dramatically increasing pressure on the Government to cut traffic pollution.

Alarming official research provides the first evidence that British schoolchildren are getting asthma from exhaust fumes, dramatically increasing pressure on the Government to cut traffic pollution.

The news follows exclusive revelations in The Independent on Sunday last week that scientists in California had proved for the first time that car fumes cause the disease.

Research in Nottingham, partly funded by the Department of Health, shows that children find it increasingly hard to breathe the closer they live to main roads.

It found that primary school children were 6 per cent more likely to wheeze when breathing for every 30 metres closer they lived to a main road. In secondary school children the rate doubled, to 16 per cent.

Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, will next week draw the results of both studies to the attention of all his EU colleagues and press for new continent-wide reductions in traffic pollution.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament is expected to resolve this week that the European Commission should assess the impact of new roads on health before funding them.

And Professor David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, is calling on the Prime Minister to finance a dramatic increase in research on renewable energy and clean cars.

The Nottingham study undermines the Government's official position that "there is no firm evidence" that pollution has caused asthma either at home or abroad. The Independent on Sunday has for more than eight years been identifying car fumes as a likely cause of the disease.

The study, of nearly 10,000 primary and secondary school children in the Midlands city, was carried out by Nottingham University's Division of Respiratory Medicine with the support of the Department of Health and the National Asthma Campaign.

It says these findings "support a causal effect of exposure to road-traffic pollution on wheezing illness in children" and adds that this has "important health implications" for the one in every eight citizens of Nottingham who live within 90 metres of a main road.

The research does not identify the precise pollutants that are to blame, but it suggests that the effects of car fumes are more widespread than those identified in the Californian study. The US research showed that ozone causes the disease, but levels of ozone are usually higher in the countryside than in cities, as it is formed by sunlight as the fumes are blown by the winds.

The Nottingham effects are more likely to have been caused by other emissions from exhausts, such as nitrogen dioxide or small soot particles, suggesting that there is no easy escape for asthmatics.

Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Environment minister, called yesterday for urgent new action to develop cleaner cars, and Mr Meacher said he would argue for this and other Europe-wide measures to cut pollution at a meeting of European environment ministers next Monday.

Meanwhile the European Parliament will vote on Wednesday on a bill proposed by its transport committee that would oblige the Commission to ensure "a high level of health protection" in its new transport projects, and to assess the impact of new roads before financing them.

Dr Caroline Lucas, the British Green MEP, who drew up the bill, said last night: "There can be no more doubt that car fumes cause asthma, and no further excuse for inaction. If we continue as at present, our children will pay with their health and, increasingly, with their lives".

Comments