Babies in prams exposed to 60% more pollution than parents, says study

Young children in prams may be exposed to up to 60% more pollution than their parents at the kerbside, a study has suggested. 

A study, conducted by the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) at the University of Surrey in the Environment International journal, investigated the potential exposure of infants based on their proximity to ground level and emissions at the roadside.

Researchers examined more than 160 references to highlight the factors concerning the pollution exposure of babies in prams and associated mitigation strategies, as part of the study.

Findings suggested that infants in prams breathe in more polluted air since they are positioned between 0.55m and 0.85m above ground level and vehicle exhaust pipes usually sit within 1m above road level.

This increases in-pram babies’ vulnerability to being exposed to more pollution than adults, they suggested.

The researchers also added that babies are more at risk from the health dangers of air pollution because their bodies are small and developing.

Professor Prashant Kumar, who is a Chair in Air Quality and Health and the founding director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research, said: “We know that infants breathe in higher amounts of airborne particles relative to their lung size and body weight compared to adults. What we have proven here is that the height most children travel at while in a pram doubles the likelihood of negative impacts from air pollution when compared to an adult.

“When you also consider how vulnerable they are because of their tissues, immune systems, and brain development at this early stage of their life, it is extremely worrying that they are being exposed to these dangerous levels of pollution.”

The authors called for more to be done to reduce air pollution or lessen its effects, such as lowering the emissions of road vehicles and encouraging greater use of public transport.

Professor Kumar added: “Our past research motivated us to set-up the MAPE (Mitigation of Air Pollution Exposure to young children) project that aims to develop targeted mitigation strategies and solutions. We are working together with industrial partners to develop innovative technological solutions and giving this aspect a special attention in our on-going living lab activities, including community and stakeholders’ engagement, part of our another in-progress project, iSCAPE.

“With the multitude of evidence we set out in this review, it is important that everyone across the country begin a full and frank conversation about pollution and the impact it has on our most vulnerable – from parents and community leaders, to government officials and industry.”

The study suggests a range of mitigation actions such as controlling emissions of road vehicles, and ‘passive’ actions such as roadside hedges between vehicles and pedestrians could address the issue as well as potential technological solutions to the issue.

Prof Jonathan Grigg, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who was not involved in the research, said the findings were a "major concern".

"To help protect children's health we must promote alternatives to cars fuelled by petrol and diesel," he added.

The study was published in the Environment International journal and can be found here.

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