A recent article in New York Times painted Poland as Europe’s climate villain due to its worsening air pollution as well as plans to further build out its coal power. The country now has 33 out of the 50 dirtiest cities in the European Union, and according to Greenpeace, 62% of kindergartens in Poland are located in heavily polluted areas.
Whether or not Poland, Germany, or other contenders deserve the villain mantle, a child inhaling toxic fumes is something we can all agree is bad, but the problem is widespread. In Los Angeles, 169 childcare centers are determined to be too close to freeways, and in Moscow 24% of kindergartens were located within 100 meters of a four-lane road.
Why precisely are these serious concerns? Professor Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric and Respiratory Medicine at Queen Mary University, explained:
“Air pollution from urban transport, especially diesel, is a serious threat to health. What’s particularly worrying is the effect on children, since these have consequences lasting decades. Exposure of children to traffic fumes, which contain sooty particles and nitrogen dioxide slows the growth of the lungs, increases the risk of pneumonia and development of asthma. In children who have asthma, high pollution days may trigger more severe attacks.”
While children are disproportionately affected by pollution due to immature immune systems and still-developing bodies, there is a major opportunity here for urban and transport planners to carefully consider the placement of parks, schools, and kindergartens so as to shield children's elevated sensitivity to air pollution from urban transport. There is both a threat and an opportunity here, what is missing so far is action.