Guest post by Amandine Alexandre, in a personal capacity
Last month, I visited Mitchell Brook Primary school in Stonebridge to give a talk about air pollution to the 600-odd pupils as part of a Mums for Lungs’ project.
When I asked the children whether they knew anyone who suffered from asthma, I was faced with a sea of raised hands. Dozens of pupils wanted to tell me about themselves, their brother or their little cousin and how their health condition impacted their life.
Air pollution makes children sick
I shouldn’t have been surprised. In London, 1 in 10 children suffer from asthma. Besides, Mitchell Brook is located just a stone's throw away from IKEA on the North Circular road, one of the most polluted spots in the UK.
Still, data do not tell the whole story. Even clean air campaigners like myself need to be reminded from time to time about the faces behind the statistics and the incredible suffering, worry and grief caused by toxic levels of air pollution. This is a health emergency.
Asthma in children can be mild but it can also be incapacitating and even lethal. In 2013, Londoner Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died as a result of one too many very severe asthma attacks. She was only 9 year old and, like the pupils from Mitchell Brook Primary School, she lived near a very busy road - the South Circular. In December 2020, a second inquest on the death of Ella concluded that air pollution had played a role in her death.
8 to 12 children die of asthma in London every year
Sadly, the passing away of Ella is not an event as rare as we may want to think. According to her mum, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, a World Health Organization advocate for health and air quality, every year in London 8 to 12 children die as a result of asthma every year. Let’s not forget that asthma can also be fatal in adults.
This week, and for a few days only, we have an opportunity to take an important step towards protecting the most vulnerable among us in Brent. We can express our support for the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to almost the whole of London by August 29th 2023.
Since October last year, the South of the borough has been covered by the ULEZ. It means that, in this part of Brent and the whole expanded area across London, drivers of the most polluting diesel and petrol vehicles are charged £12.50 to drive within the zone.
The impact of this first ULEZ expansion has been positive. The level of nitrogen dioxide in the expanded area has dropped by 20%, according to a report published last week by the Mayor of London. It’s very good news as nitrogen dioxide is responsible for stunting children’s lungs, among other things.
An opportunity to address an injustice
Now is our chance to make sure that all children in Brent - whether they live in the South or the North of the borough or go to school near the North circular - benefit from the same protection from the most polluting vehicles.
82% of vehicles driving outside the existing ULEZ zone are already compliant with the ULEZ standards but we need the number of cleaner vehicles to increase as soon as possible.
For the sake of clarity, the ULEZ expansion won’t be enough to get us the clean air that we all deserve. However, it’s a step in the right direction and an opportunity that, as Brent residents, we must grab with both hands.
Please support the ULEZ expansion by using this really easy tool created by the environmental charity We are possible.
To find out more about the impact of air pollution on children and how we can reduce it, you can visit Mums for Lungs here.