Alastair Harper, Head of Advocacy at Unicef UK has said that one in three children are living in areas that would be classed as having “toxic levels of air pollution”.
Unicef UK are calling for the government to commit to legally binding targets to reduce air pollution in the UK and designated funding to help protect young people from toxic air.
Mr Harper told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer: “What Unicef has found is that one in three children are living in areas that the WHO would class as ‘toxic levels of air pollution’.
“Why that matters is because children are especially vulnerable to the impact.
“Their lungs are developing, their bodies are growing and the particulate matter gets straight into their blood stream.
“We are learning more about this each month and it is a new area of concern.
“We are seeing just what that impact can be, which includes lung development, causing heart disease, causing problems that will affect their whole lives and limit their whole lives in terms of healthy development.”
'Not about blaming parents'
A survey of 80 experts by Unicef UK and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found 92% believe the public should be more concerned about the impact of air pollution on children's health.
Mr Harper said that children were most at risk “to and from school”.
“There is a lot of internal – inside your building – air pollution that is definitely true but one of the areas where children are most exposed is when they are on the way to and from school,” he said.
“It is that commute to school that we have really been focused on. We think the government needs to come up with some clear strategic answers as to how we can reduce the air pollution on those levels. It is actually the children that are in cars that are the most exposed.”
He added: “This is not about blaming parents or what they have to do to get their children safely to school – it is about the government giving them options.
“That is why we are calling on the government to put in legally binding measures to reduce air pollution to levels where children can breathe healthily.”