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Air pollution stunting children’s lungs, study finds

A six-year study finds children living in highly polluted parts of cities have up to 10 per cent less lung capacity than normal, with warnings the damage could be permanent

High levels of air pollution are stunting the growth of children’s lungs, a major study has found.

Eight and nine-year-olds living in cities with high levels of fumes from diesel cars have up to 10 per cent les lung capacity than normal, the research suggests.

Over six years, researchers examined the lung function of 2,400 children at 25 schools across east London, and found a direct correlation between air pollutant exposure and reduced lung growth.

Such children have an increased risk of disease such as asthma and bronchitis and, and the prospect of a permanent reduction in lung capacity.

The tests checked the volume of air each child could breathe, as well as levels of inflammation in their lungs, with urine tests to check for heavy metals, which are produced by vehicles.

Overall, those living in areas with high levels of particulates and nitrogen dioxide had up to 10 per cent reduced lung capacity the study led by Prof Chris Griffiths, principal investigator at the Medical Research Council and Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma.

“The data shows that traffic pollution stops children’s lungs growing properly,” Ian Mudway, a respiratory toxicologist at King’s College London told the Sunday Times.

“The evidence suggests that by 8-9 years old, children from the most polluted areas have 5 to 10 per cent less lung capacity and they may never get that back.”

The study was designed to assess the impact of London’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) which since 2008 has discouraged larger diesel vehicles such as lorries from entering the capital.

The research found the measure had made no difference.

“It is very disappointing that the LEZ, which was specifically designed as a major public health intervention, has so far brought about no change,” said Prof Griffiths.

“This raises questions over the government’s current consultation on air quality, which is based around the idea of creating similar low emission zones in up to 30 other polluted urban areas. There appears to be no evidence that these low emission zones can reduce pollution or improve health.”

Other studies have shown diesel pollutants causing lung inflammation, researchers said, with tests showing black carbon from diesel exhaust emissions inside children’s lung cells.

Earlier this year research suggested that air pollution could increase the risk of brain damage and small strokes which are linked to dementia.

Environmental groups say diesel cars could be phased out as part of Government efforts to address pollution.

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