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Protecting Children from Environmental Pollution




Child and teddy bear wearing pollution masks

Widespread concerns about the potentially life-altering damage caused by climate change have intensified the focus on pollution and man’s effect on the planet. The emphasis has been centered on carbon dioxide as the chief cause of climate change, and efforts are being made across the globe to reduce the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere every day. There’s a long road ahead regarding this topic, but there’s an element of pollution that has been somewhat sidelined by the focus on climate change, and that’s the quality of the air we breathe in our everyday lives.

Pollutants are all around us

Exhaust emissions are known to be toxic, and many cities have introduced penalties for high polluters, as well as incentives for drivers to use cleaner technologies like electric and hybrid vehicles, and share their journeys. Public transport provides an alternative, but the quality of provision will vary greatly depending on where you live. There will also be a degree of pollution produced by buses and other forms of public transport, so they are not without problems. Ecologists have made a valid point that battery powered cars still use power obtained from the national grid, which may be sourced from fossil fuels and thus not be as green as manufacturers might claim. However, what is also true is that in terms of air quality in cities and towns, is that electric cars produce no harmful emissions, so the air you breathe in would undoubtedly be cleaner if there were more electric vehicles. It’s also encouraging to note that Tesla, a major producer of electric cars, is working with the Edison power company to ensure that the electricity used to charge car batteries comes only from renewable and sustainable sources.

Why pollution is particularly bad for children

There are several reasons why breathing in polluted air is bad for our children. Firstly, their lungs are smaller, and their breathing rates much higher than an adult’s. It means they are taking higher levels of the pollutants into their lungs on a regular basis. Secondly, a child’s body is constantly growing and changing, and the introduction of a harmful compound into their system could adversely affect their growth, as well as making them more susceptible to certain diseases like cancer and emphysema in later life. Children also tend to spend more time outdoors in polluted environments than their parents, playing at school break times and after school with their friends for example. Many schools and play areas are adjacent to busy roads, meaning the pollution rates are high in the very places children are spending a substantial part of their time.

Asthma and other breathing difficulties

Studies have shown that rates of asthma and other breathing difficulties in children are at worryingly high levels, particularly for children living in built-up areas. Pollution may not be the sole cause; links have been shown to other factors such as birth weights, and whether a baby has been breast-fed for instance. However, there’s no doubt that pollution does have a negative impact on children’s breathing. It can be distressing for parents and the child and will affect their school attendance and their ability to partake in certain activities. While asthma can be controlled using an inhaler, it’s still scary for a child and puts added stress onto parents and other carers. 

Other sources of poor air quality

Before the harmful effects of passive smoking were proven and widely publicized, nobody thought twice about smoking cigarettes around children. Thankfully it’s now far less common and indeed is prohibited in many places. Nevertheless, nicotine is still big business, and smoking is notoriously hard to give up. If you haven’t been able to shake the habit, the least you can do is make sure you never smoke near your children, and for theirs and your own sake, it’s worth continuing with your efforts to quit and trying any method you can find to reduce your tobacco consumption. One alternative option is to try e-cigarettes, which provide the pleasure of smoking but produce far fewer harmful vapors. If this sounds like it could be a good option, you can obtain more info by visiting websites that specialize in e-cigarettes and vaping. Industrial pollution has less of a high profile than exhaust emissions when it comes to discussing air quality in cities. Since the days of extensive smog caused by coal-powered industries, industrial pollution levels have fallen, but manufacturing and power production still emit significant levels of pollutants into the air. The closer you live to a factory or power station, the more this will affect you and your children, so it’s a good idea to find out what is being released from any industrial locations near your home.

Ways to improve air quality for your children

The most significant way of improving air quality would be to ban petrol and diesel cars altogether. Currently, this isn’t a viable proposition, but plans are in place across the world to introduce bans on vehicles using fossil fuels over the next thirty years in many places. Of course, there will be several generations of children growing up between now and then, so what can be done in the meantime to help reduce children’s exposure to pollutants in the air? Some schools are experimenting with green screens – living hedges of dense, tall foliage that block off the road side of the school. This helps to stop pollution drifting into the school area, and it’s hoped that the foliage will absorb some of the chemicals as well, although this has yet to be proven. Air purifiers could also be used in classrooms to help remove harmful particles from the atmosphere when the children are indoors. The whole community needs to take responsibility for their behavior, and reduce their emissions using simple measures such as only driving when absolutely necessary, turning the engine off when stationary, and driving the least polluting vehicles.

There’s no instant answer to protecting your child from environmental pollution, but you can take steps to improve the quality of the air you are all breathing. Protecting your children from inhaling pollutants is the best way to prevent the incidence of asthma and other breathing difficulties, and give your children a better start in life.

View the very BEST Environmental Illness Videos!

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People in this conversation

  • Guest - Byron Woolcock

    Good balanced article. I’m always a bit disappointed that wood smoke is not stressed. It is a very common and severe pollutant everywhere. DSAWSP has useful information on this other “passive smoking” source. Thank you.

    Comment last edited on about 4 years ago by Maff

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