Exclusive: Walking or cycling to school is better for children’s health as cars are ‘boxes collecting toxic gases’ says David King
Damian CarringtonLast modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 16.34 GMT
Children are at risk of dangerous levels of air pollution in cars because exposure to toxic air is often far higher inside than outside vehicles, a former government chief scientific adviser has warned.
Prof Sir David King, writing for the Guardian, says walking or cycling to school would be much better for children’s health. The warning comes as the UK government faces a third legal defeat for failing to tackle the country’s illegal levels of air pollution. Air pollution is known to damage children’s developing lungs but recent research also indicates it harms children’s ability to learn at school and may damage their DNA.
“Children sitting in the backseat of vehicles are likely to be exposed to dangerous levels [of air pollution],” said King. “You may be driving a cleaner vehicle but your children are sitting in a box collecting toxic gases from all the vehicles around you.”
He said new legislation to ban smoking in cars with children had gained widespread support. “So why are we still happy for our children to breathe in toxic emissions in the back of our cars?”
“The best thing for all our health is to leave our cars behind,” said King, who now advises the British Lung Foundation. “It’s been shown that the health benefits of walking and cycling far outweigh the costs of breathing in pollution. If more drivers knew the damage they could be doing to their children, I think they’d think twice about getting in the car.”
Prof Stephen Holgate, an asthma expert at Southampton University and chair of the Royal College of Physicians working party on air pollution, said there was enough evidence to tell parents that walking and cycling exposes their children to less air pollution than driving.
“It is nine to 12 times higher inside the car than outside,” he said. “Children are in the back of the car and often the car has the fans on, just sucking the fresh exhaust coming out of the car or lorry in front of them straight into the back of the car.”