The severe impact of traffic-related air pollution on children’s health is becoming ever clearer and more worrying. On the 4th of April, Greenpeace and the Guardian called for urgent government action to get diesel vehicles off the streets, saying: “Most people don’t realise that all across the country toddlers are being exposed to invisible air pollution”. But calls for children’s outdoor play to be restricted back in January were met with a strong response by Play England chair Nicola Butler who said, “The way to tackle air pollution is introducing traffic exclusion zones, not banning children from playing outside”. And former Chief Scientist David King recently argued that children in cars are more exposed to fumes than those outside walking and cycling.
Evidently, parents should not have to face the choice of keeping children shut up indoors or letting them breathe in bad quality air – things need to change. In the meantime, Bristol mum and energy campaigner Zoe Banks Gross says there is a way to give children the benefits of outdoor play and help tackle the causes of air pollution at the same time…
“One of the triggers for me to get back into the groove of regular playing out sessions this spring was a phone call from a BBC researcher keen to find out what, if any, difference there might be in air quality during a session. They brought a small, white pyramid with an antenna and plunked it down on a front garden wall. This special monitor was collecting information on Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels outside our houses, which can have damaging health effects even at concentrations below the current EU limits, according to Public Health England and Defra.
During our session, NO2 levels were five times lower than on a normal afternoon of cars driving up and down. Five times! In the past, we’ve always had a few residents that were less than enthusiastic about Playing Out, but even these neighbours were interested in the air quality impacts. Most people know someone, often a child, who has asthma or another respiratory illness, making this a personal issue for us all.
Ultimately, we need political action to tackle the main cause of air pollution – diesel vehicles – but in the meantime, we can improve our local air quality for a little while, by opening our streets for play. Since I have been made aware of this extra benefit of ‘playing out’, I’ve felt that much more compelled to do it. It’s good to feel that I can give my children a chance to have all the benefits of outdoor play in a way that is part of the long-term solution to make our streets and cities healthier places to live.”
Friends of the Earth is calling for a week of action on air pollution from 24th June to 2nd July. There are lots of ways you can take part – why not start by talking to your neighbours about opening your street for play?