250,000 babies born breathing in polluted air in the UK

Every 2 minutes a baby is born in the UK in an area with dangerously polluted air, according to new analysis by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation. 

The report reveals that more than 250,000 children in the UK in 2019 were born in areas where levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) exceeded the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2005 guidelines. 

These recommendations have since become stricter, meaning that from September this year even more babies – an estimated 600,000 – are being exposed to unsafe air pollution. 

The researchers also highlight that nearly a third (29%) of hospitals in England are located in polluted areas. This includes 71 maternity units where an estimated 183,979 babies are born each year. 

This report is particularly concerning given the fact that children are especially vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are still developing and they breathe faster than adults.

With COP26 next week, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation want to highlight that improving air quality will help the environment and protect people’s health.

person wearing gray shirt putting baby on scale

The charities are calling for the UK Government to put improving air quality at the heart of its levelling up agenda, ensuring people can access clean air regardless of where they are born or where they live. 

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘It is a national shame that a quarter of a million babies are born breathing toxic air every year.

‘How can it be acceptable that the first breath a baby takes could be so dirty it could seriously affect their long-term health? Every child deserves the best start in life and our Government needs to act now to cut air pollution levels and do their duty to protect future generations from this invisible threat.

‘The UK Government must blaze a trail, not just at COP26 but beyond, to bring in bold new clean air laws and set ambitious targets to clean up the air by 2030. If people are encouraged to swap their car for cleaner modes of transport and Government invests in more cycle routes, more frequent bus routes and if local councils expand clean air zones, there is hope that we can tackle air pollution and all enjoy cleaner air.

‘But we can’t press for change alone. We need people to share their stories of how air pollution affects them and support our campaign to put pressure on the Government to urgently tackle air pollution.’

Photo by Christian Bowen

Photo by Christian Bowen


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