- Nearly a third of hospitals in England are in areas where PM2.5 exceeds guidelines
- This includes 71 units where an estimated 183,979 babies are born every year.
- Charities describe their findings as ‘national shame’ and call for action
One study showed that every year more than 250,000 British babies are born in hotspots of toxic air – the equivalent of one every two minutes.
Experts warn that pollution is putting tots at risk of developing potentially life-threatening health conditions.
Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation described their findings as a ‘national shame’ and called for immediate action to tackle the problem.
Researchers from the charity examined air quality around births as well as hospitals and midwifery units in each area in 2019.
About a third of hospitals in England were in areas where particulate matter (PM2.5) levels exceeded World Health Organization guidelines.
This includes 71 maternity units where an estimated 183,979 babies are born each year – nearly three of all newborns.
PM2.5 mainly comes from vehicles and industry and has been linked to premature death and heart and lung problems.
The analysis showed that more than 250,000 babies were born in areas where PM2.5 levels were above the WHO guidelines level 10 that year.
But the WHO lowered its limit to 5 this September, with researchers estimating that 600,000 babies will now be born in the UK each year in areas exceeding this limit.
Researchers from the charity Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation examined air quality around births as well as hospitals and midwifery units in each region in 2019.
The researchers found that nearly a third of hospitals in England were in areas where levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) – one of the most problematic pollutants – exceeded World Health Organization guidelines. The graph shows PM2.5 levels in the UK since records began in 2009 for urban areas (purple) and roads (red).
Air pollution increases the risk of many conditions, including heart attack, stroke and diabetes
Julia Kovaliova, 37, (pictured with her child Maya) is a full-time finance manager from Manchester, which has some of the most polluted roads in the country and one of the worst rates of childhood asthma hospital admissions in the country.
Evidence shows that air pollution can damage every organ in the body and inhibit lung development, meaning that children are more vulnerable than adults.
11-year-old pollution-stricken asthma victim’s mother ‘horrified’, the condition of her other children will be
A mother of three fears that her two children will get pollution-induced asthma, which is her biggest sufferer.
Julia Kovaliova, 37, a full-time finance manager from Manchester, has some of the most polluted roads in the country and one of the worst rates of childhood asthma hospital admissions in the country.
They have three children, 11-year-old Maxim, who has pollution-induced asthma, Mark, five, and Maya, one-year-old. She is scared Mark and Maya will get asthma like their brother.
She said: ‘Maksim was six years old when he had his first asthma attack and it seemed to have come out of nowhere.
‘He had a cough and a little cold and one minute he was running around and the very next day he was complaining that he could not catch his breath.
‘I had to take him to the hospital and he was diagnosed with asthma.
‘We live in an area that was supposed to be family friendly, yet it’s near a busy main road with frequent traffic and not a lot of green space.
‘Maxim’s asthma is always worse when the roads are busy and believe me it starts with air pollution.
‘When we are away from home, such as on vacation or visiting family in Lithuania, where there is little traffic, her breathing problems miraculously disappeared.
‘It’s terrifying that air pollution can make kids so sick and I worry that Maxim’s asthma will continue to get worse.
‘I’m really worried that Maya will get asthma like her brother – she was breathing dirty air when she was in the womb and is now breathing toxic air as a small, innocent child.
‘But we can’t afford to move to a less polluted place.
‘I’ve been campaigning to curb air pollution, and along with a group of other parents, I stopped a council building a car park near my son’s school, but now it’s time for the government Take steps and really make a difference.
Air pollution can also damage the lungs and brains of babies while they are still in the womb and emerging evidence suggests that pregnant women who breathe in the toxic air are more likely to give birth prematurely and with a low birth weight. probability is higher.
There are also an estimated 36,000 premature deaths in the UK from toxic air each year.
At the local authority level, Newham Council in London tops the chart as having the worst levels of air pollution, followed by the City of London and Waltham Forest Council.
Birmingham, which has the highest birth rate in the country, is the second most polluted city after London.
But it doesn’t just affect large cities, leafy St. Albans and Windsor and Eaton also record dangerously high levels of air pollution, with more than 1,500 children in each area exposed.
The findings come ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) next week.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘It is a national shame that 1.25 million babies are born each year breathing toxic air.
‘How can it be accepted that the first breath a child takes can be so dirty that it can seriously affect their long-term health?
‘Every child deserves the best start in life and our government needs to do its duty to cut down on the level of air pollution and save the generations to come from this invisible menace.
‘The UK government should ignite a path forward, not only at COP26 but beyond, by bringing in bold new clean air laws and setting ambitious targets to clean the air by 2030.