Is air pollution hurting my baby? A Tower Hamlets mum finds out

Helen and Leela. Pic: Casper Hughes

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After interviewing some of the pioneers of citizen air monitoring, we thought we’d try out one of the devices for ourselves.

A University of Surrey study recently recommended that London mothers to use pram covers to protect their children from air pollution. The study found that babies were exposed to the highest amounts of pollutants around busy roads and traffic lights.

The BuggyAir air pollution monitor was developed with this problem specifically in mind. It’s designed to attach to buggies and monitor the air,so that worried mums can find out exactly what their baby is breathing.

Going about their normal routine in Stepney Green, our trialists Helen and baby Leela attached the Buggyair monitor to their buggy and went about recording the data.

Above is the map of PM 2.5 levels, the tiny air pollution particles, which Helen collected during the week. The red dots show high levels of pollution; the yellow dots show medium levels; while the green dots show low levels.

Predictably, Stepney Green park registered as a low-pollutant area while the busy A13 showed high levels of PM 2.5s.

A week later, having showed Helen the results, we asked her some questions.

Baby Leela in her buggy. Pic: Casper Hughes

Will you be more conscious of air pollution now?

I think so. It’s something I’ve thought about before being a cyclist riding behind buses but living in a big city you generally become quite desensitised to air pollution. Going out to the countryside and then coming back in the air just smells different which you realise probably isn’t the healthiest thing but you very quickly get used to it again. Having the monitor definitely made me more conscious of the air Leela and I were breathing.

How will it change your routine?

I think when you’re walking with your child you naturally take the quietest, nicer routes. In that way I’ve kind of  avoided air pollution without really knowing it. Actually seeing the most polluted spots in the area is very useful though. Thankfully Leela isn’t asthmatic but I’m really glad I’m now more aware of the worst areas – it’s another reason to avoid them.

What do you think of citizen air monitoring in general?

It’s a great thing. I know some of the technology isn’t especially advanced which can lead to inaccuracies but I think anyone trying to help us monitor the air we breathe is doing a good thing. Keep it up!

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Additional reporting by Nick Dowson and Eve Watling

Follow our Clear The Air series this week to find out more about the air pollution crisis in our boroughs.

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