A UK study has found that babies and young children are at risk from the effects of air pollution during walks to school to pick up older siblings. Scientists from the University of Surrey and the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee published their study in Environmental Pollution, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
This experimental study aimed to compare the pollution particulates to which babies carried by adults and babies in prams were exposed, during the walk to school. Different school walking routes were tested around Guildford. Children are seen as being more susceptible to environmental exposures because of their developing systems, lower body weight and higher inhalation rates. Children are also closer to traffic emissions than their parents because they are shorter in height, but there has not been a great deal of research in this field. This study aimed to rectify this by exploring the hypothesis, but further research will be needed to validate the theory.
The study simulated a school walking route, starting at 8am for a morning drop off and 3pm for the afternoon after school pick up. The route was 2.7 km long and took an average of 37 minutes. The route followed both high and low traffic zones, and included four traffic intersections and a bus stop. The researchers put their measuring instruments inside a pram to enable them to measure the level of exposure to particulates at a height of 0.7m from the ground. To simulate a child being carried by an adult, the instruments were carried by the scientist. The scientists calculated the amount of pollution a baby would be exposed to by multiplying the number of particles, the density of particles in a given volume of air and a baby’s typical breathing rate. The scientists compared the results between morning and evening, between the different heights the instruments were placed and also in the different pollution hotspots.
It seemed to make very little difference whether a child was held in its parent’s arms or if it was in a buggy or pram.The different-sized particles varied in whether they were more concentrated during the morning or afternoon pick-up. Large-sized particles were low in number in the morning but more concentrated in the afternoon, while the medium and smaller-sized particles were higher in the morning and lower in the afternoon. These results matched the respiratory deposition dose of the different sized particles which measured how much a baby would have breathed in. High levels of larger and small-sized particles were found at the traffic intersections and bus stop which were the pollution hotspots.
This study was only based in a single town and would need to be compared with results collected in different towns, rural roads and cities, assessing a number of different routes. There was very little difference between the measurements collected in the prams and those collected by the adult carrying the instruments, although the study lead, Dr Prashant Kumar suggested that a pram cover might help to protect infants in a pram from the worst of the air pollution, in the press release on the study. The study was not able to assess whether respiratory disease could be caused by the air pollution that the babies were exposed to. Further studies will be required to enable the scientists to understand the effects that the particles could cause in infants.
Kumar P, et al., “Exposure of in-pram babies to airborne particle during morning drop-in and afternoon pick-up of school children”. Environmental Pollution. March 6 2017