Traffic pollution is a greater threat to babies in prams, study finds

Infants in prams, pushchairs and buggies are dangerously close to exhaust pipe height, say scientists.

Babies in prams and buggies may be 60% more vulnerable to traffic pollution than their parents, a study has found.

The pollutants – toxic ultra fine particles and nitrogen oxides from vehicle exhausts – have the potential to impair brain development in young children, say the researchers.

Scientists from the University of Surrey studied different types of pram and pushchair in relation to their height and width and the airflow around them.

Summer weather July 28th 2018
Vehicle exhaust fumes pose a hazard to the developing brains of infants, say scientists. (John Stillwell/PA)

Vehicle exhaust pipes usually sit within one metre (3.3ft) above the road surface.

Infants in prams are positioned between 0.55m and 0.85m above ground level, making them more likely to inhale toxic fumes than walking adults, said the scientists.

The evidence showed they could be exposed to up to 60% more of the pollutants than their parents.

Professor Prashant Kumar, director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research at the University of Surrey, 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 increases 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.”

Ultrafine particles chiefly produced by diesel engines are known to enter the bloodstream via the lungs and accumulate in lymph nodes and brain tissue.

They can cause asthma, allergies and respiratory diseases in children, said the researchers.

One component of fine particles known as “black carbon” (BC), the sooty residue of burning fossil fuel, had been shown to reduce thinking ability in young children.

Nitrogen oxides (Nox) were linked to inflammation of the airways and greater susceptibility to infections and allergens.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, reviewed evidence from previous research highlighting the pollution risk to infants.

The scientists wrote: “A number of studies have assessed the exposure of young children but only a handful have focused on in-pram babies.

“There is clearly a need for further studies to develop diverse datasets for in-pram babies’ exposure.”

Ways of reducing the risk suggested by the researchers included tighter controls on vehicle emissions, barriers such as road side hedges to shield pedestrians from pollution, and technological innovations that create a “clean air zone” around the child’s breathing area.

Dr Stefan Reis, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, said: “The paper makes a compelling case for the integrated assessment of both the sources of air pollutant emissions, and local, individual and behavioural factors contributing to exposure in order to design interventions.”

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