Air pol­lu­tion in cold weather is deadly for chil­dren, say doc­tors

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Matthew Taylor En­vi­ron­ment cor­re­spon­dent

Thou­sands of chil­dren are fac­ing a hos­pi­tal stay as cold weather and the air pol­lu­tion cri­sis com­bine to cre­ate po­ten­tially deadly con­di­tions for young peo­ple, doc­tors have warned.

The Royal Col­lege of Pae­di­atrics and Child Health, the Royal Col­lege of Physi­cians and chil­dren’s char­ity Unicef say that Bri­tain’s toxic air and cold weather will leave many chil­dren ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble this win­ter, cre­at­ing an “over­looked” emer­gency for an al­ready stretched NHS.

“Wards could soon be filled with wheez­ing, splut­ter­ing chil­dren, their lungs strug­gling to bat­tle the dou­ble bur­den of cold weather and toxic air,” they state in a let­ter to the Guardian.

Win­ter of­ten sees spikes in acute air pol­lu­tion as the cold weather re­sults in both an in­crease in emis­sions from the heat­ing of homes and of­fices, in­clud­ing the burn­ing of wood or coal, and re­duced dis­per­sion in cold, still con­di­tions. This, com­bined with freez­ing tem­per­a­tures that weaken those with res­pi­ra­tory trou­ble, leaves thou­sands vul­ner­a­ble to acute health problems.

In the let­ter the doc­tors state that chil­dren are most at risk from this dou­ble threat, and they say that as the NHS pre­pares for a win­ter bed short­age, they have a “man­date to flag an is­sue that is con­tin­u­ally over­looked”.

“We know that the el­derly are sus­cep­ti­ble to ill health caused by the drop in tem­per­a­tures, but the im­pact on young chil­dren with res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tions, such as asthma, is of­ten dis­re­garded,” they said.

Bri­tain was home to more chil­dren suf­fer­ing from res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tions than any­where else in Europe. “Ad­mis­sions for peo­ple with res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tions al­most dou­ble dur­ing the win­ter – and the ma­jor­ity of those ad­mit­ted are young chil­dren.

“Emer­gency ad­mis­sions and mor­tal­ity rates linked to these con­di­tions are also the high­est: a child ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an asthma at­tack is ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal ev­ery 20 min­utes.”

Air pol­lu­tion kills tens of thou­sands of peo­ple each year across Bri­tain and af­fects the health of hun­dreds of thou­sands more. Last month, the UN warned that the UK gov­ern­ment was en­dan­ger­ing peo­ple’s health by deny­ing their right to clean air, and Unicef told the Guardian it had re­fo­cused its Bri­tish op­er­a­tion to tackle air pol­lu­tion be­cause of the scale of the health cri­sis fac­ing young peo­ple in the coun­try.

In the let­ter, doc­tors’ lead­ers and Unicef say more needs to be done to pre­vent thou­sands of young peo­ple fall­ing se­ri­ously ill this win­ter with “ir­re­versible dam­age to their health and their fu­tures”.

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