Study highlights pollution risk to children in prams
This is because the children are positioned close to the ground, nearer to vehicles’ exhaust pipes.
The pollutants - toxic ultrafine particles and nitrogen oxides - have the potential to impair brain development in young children, say the researchers.
Scientists from the University of Surrey in the UK studied different types of prams and pushchairs in relation to their height and width and the airflow around them.
Vehicle exhausts usually sit within one metre above the road. Infants in prams are positioned between 55cm and 85cm above ground level, making them more likely to inhale toxic fumes than adults walking behind them.
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, said: “We know 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 consider how vulnerable they are because of their tissues, immune systems and brain development at this early stage, 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.
One component of fine particles known as “black carbon”, the sooty residue of fossil fuel, has been shown to reduce thinking ability in young children. Nitrogen oxides have been linked to inflammation of the airways and a greater susceptibility to infections and allergens.
The study reviewed evidence from previous research highlighting the pollution risk to infants. It said: “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 include tighter controls on vehicle emissions, barriers such as roadside hedges to shield pedestrians from pollution and technological innovations that create a “clean air zone” around the child’s mouth and nose.
Dr Stefan Reis, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, southern England, 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.” - Daily Mail