The Green Party has called for air pollution masks to be distributed to children attending schools within 150 metres of busy roads in Tower Hamlets to protect their health. Almost one in every five children in the East End is afflicted by asthma.
Chris Smith, Green Party candidate for the Greater London Assembly seat of City and East, made the call for breathing masks as he launched his election campaign outside St Matthias primary school, Brick Lane, last Friday.
St Matthias is one of over 100 schools in the constituency that lie within 150 metres of a road, which according to Smith, carries over 10,000 vehicles a day.
Smith told EastLondonLines: “I’m calling upon the Mayor to provide pollution masks so parents can protect their children.”
He warned that more action needed to be taken against the effects of long-term exposure to traffic pollution on children and young people.
Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine, in Whitechapel, said: “There is no doubt that air pollution is affecting the health of children living in East London. Small particles of carbon breathed deep into the lungs are especially damaging.”
However he explained to ELL that it is unclear whether the masks would reduce the amount of inhaled soot, since the small size of carbon particles means they could pass through the breathing holes in the mask.
Grigg is currently developing a method to determine whether masks reduce the amount of inhaled soot.
He said: “We hope to find masks that are effective in reducing particle exposure for high-exposure groups such as cyclists.”
Yet he added that the source of these particles – exhaust fume emissions – should be targeted.
He said: “Masks for healthy children are not a practical solution. Reducing the amount of particles from local road traffic, especially from diesel engines, is likely to be the best way of reducing children’s exposure.”
Research by the Institute of Occupational Medicine in June 2010 suggested that air pollution causes more than 4,200 premature deaths in London every year and can lead to respiratory illnesses, such as allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.
According to Dr. Susan Aldridge on Allergy Cosmos, childhood asthma is particularly bad in East London, with as many as 18% of children being affected.
Children living in pollution hotspots, such as Tower Hamlets, also have poorer lung capacity than the national average.