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Toxic Air and Children’s Health

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 19 February 2019

Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the United Kingdom. Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer, leading to reduced life expectancy. It has a particular impact on children as they grow. There is evidence to suggest that the process of normal lung function growth in children is suppressed by long-term exposure to air pollution.

In Edinburgh West we have two of Scotland’s most polluted roads, St John’s Road and Queensferry Road, according to recent figures. Studies show that if someone lives with 75 metres of any major road as a child, they have a 29% increased risk of lifetime asthma. Given that across the country there are 2,000 nurseries close to roads with dangerously high levels of pollution, what action can the Minister assure us is being taken, along with counterparts in Scotland and in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to tackle this on a UK scale?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we have a clean air strategy, which, as she rightly says, is led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have a number of measures designed to improve air quality, such as reducing all pollutants, getting more diesel and petrol cars off the roads, and tackling wood-burning fires. We also need to be much more vigilant in advising the public about the risks, and that includes on how they use their cars. Time was when I went to school we used to walk, but too often we see parents dropping off their kids with idling engines, and that causes pollution.

The Minister is very good at warm words. Why does she not talk to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because his Department’s plan is to tackle the poisonous air that our children and pregnant women are breathing by 2040? The fact is that children are being poisoned now. Get on and do something about it.

To be frank, I am not often accused of using warm words, but I will take the compliment. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working very closely with DEFRA, but ultimately we need to encourage the public to change their behaviour, and we need to have a much more open debate about the consequences of bad air.

Young Bridgen was a bit slow to stand but, now that I have seen him, let us hear from the fellow.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the work of UK researchers to develop a new protocol for managing asthma, such as a pill to reduce the number of attacks by targeting airway muscles, developed in partnership with researchers in Canada?

I will always welcome any research designed to improve the treatment of asthma. Certainly, from a public health perspective, we must do much more to prevent asthma and reduce the likelihood of life-threatening attacks.