Three grieving mums are today joining forces to demand that the Government changes the law to curb the high levels of pollution they believe killed their children.
Pam Bamford, Laura Partington and Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah are calling for a new Clean Air Act to cut toxic emissions even further, saving at least 20,000 lives a year and halving future cases of childhood asthma.
They are backed by a leading expert on air pollution who today declares it a “national emergency”.
Almost 150 youngsters in Britain died from an asthma attack in the last five years, according to leading charity Asthma UK.
And latest medical research, published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, links a fifth of cases to traffic fumes and other pollution, totalling nearly 40,000 a year – with 13 per cent of global childhood asthma cases linked to traffic.
The UK already has the highest rates of young people with asthma in Europe. But experts warn these shocking statistics could be much higher, as asthma deaths caused by air pollution are difficult to quantify.
Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman declared it a “public health emergency” saying: “One child’s death caused by air pollution is one too many.”
As the three campaigning mothers know only too well. Pam’s daughter Lauren Wilkinson died in 2017 when she was 17. Laura lost her son Kevin Burnett at 11 in 2015.
Rosamund’s daughter Ella died in 2013 when she was just nine.
Lauren collapsed in her mother’s arms after an asthma attack at their home near the busy A4038 duel carriageway in Walsall in the West Midlands – one of the UK’s worst areas for air pollution. She died in hospital.
Pam, 59, said: “I really do believe the air pollution in our area contributed to Lauren’s death. It tears me apart that it could have been prevented.
“Seeing her suffer every day was a waking nightmare and I would never wish any other child or parent to go through what we went through. There is heavy traffic at all hours on the road by our house.
"Our windows get black from the soot, which I’m constantly cleaning off. Lauren often said she could taste the pollution on her tongue.”
Lauren’s condition – diagnosed in her early years – worsened when the family moved to their home close to the busy road in 2010.
“Sometimes Lauren was too weak to get out of bed. She would wheeze and struggle for every breath,” says Pam.
“When she was doing her GCSEs, I had to get her a taxi to and from some of her exams because she was too weak to walk. The asthma was destroying her.
“Yet, when we went away to rural areas, things would improve. She was like a different person. But we couldn’t afford to move.” Lauren was hospitalised after a severe asthma attack in October 2015. She recovered, but died just over a year later in January 2017.
Reliving that traumatic night, Pam said: “Lauren was laughing and joking with her stepdad one minute then was shouting to me because she couldn’t get a breath.
“She begged me, ‘Help me to the back door, I need to get some air.’ I called an ambulance, but she collapsed in my arms and never woke up. She had so much to offer the world. She wanted to train to be a respiratory nurse to give something back. Now she’ll never get that chance.
“The law needs to be changed so this never happens to someone else’s child. The Government needs to stop building houses and schools near busy main roads.”
Asthma UK says half a million asthmatic children are affected by pollution each year, putting them at risk of a life-threatening attack.
More than 30,000 children receive emergency treatment for the condition each year.
A major contributing factor is airborne pollution of tiny particles from vehicle exhaust fumes.
The droplets, invisible to the eye, can enter the bloodstream. They are carried deep into the body.
These fine particles are also linked to angina and heart attacks, cancer, bronchitis, Type 2 diabetes and dementia.
The World Health Organisation’s upper limit for the particulate is
10 micrograms per cubic metre of air.
In Walsall, where Lauren lived, the figure is 13.2 and the centre of London has a reading of 18.8.
Prof Stephen Holgate, special advisor on air pollution to the
Royal College of Physicians, wants the World Health Organisation guidelines for air pollution made a legal requirement in the UK.
Labour’s Sue Hayman said: “The fact that the UK has the highest rates of childhood asthma caused by air pollution in Europe is a disgrace. This Government has been too slow to act to tackle this public health emergency, shunting the problem on to cash-strapped local councils.
“Labour will press for a new Clean Air Act, including a network of clean air zones.”
Dr Samantha Walker, Asthma UKs director of research and policy, said: “Air pollution is a huge problem for people with asthma.
“A study, part-funded by Asthma UK, found air pollution, specifically nitrogen oxides, stunt the growth of children’s lungs, putting them at risk of developing asthma. It is something that needs to be tackled now.”
A Department for Environment spokesman said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years, but air pollution continues to shorten lives, which is why we are taking concerted action to tackle it.
“We are the first major economy to adopt particulate matter goals based on WHO recommendations.
“The new Environment Bill will give legal force to our Clean Air Strategy.”
Asthma UK provides support and advice on how to deal with pollution. Visit asthma.org.uk/pollution
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