Parents who drive their children to school are unwittingly ‘poisoning’ them as toxic fumes are three times higher inside cars than outside, MPs heard yesterday.
Driving children to school also robs them of the chance to socialise with other children and is fuelling the country’s obesity epidemic, a leading air pollution expert warned.
Professor Stephen Holgate of Southampton University made the remarks to a Commons select committee on improving air quality.
The committee heard pollution leads to the deaths of 40,000 people a year in the UK and is now the second biggest ‘avoidable’ cause of death after smoking.
Professor Holgate said yesterday explained that drivers did not realise that pollution is actually worse inside cars than outside.
He said yesterday: ‘As you sit in a car you are just venting the freshest, most toxic fumes coming from the tailpipe of the car in front, straight into your car to your child sitting in the back seat.
‘It’s two to three times higher than walking in the street.
‘So the parent who drives their child to school thinks they are protecting them in this nice clean environment is actually poisoning their child more than the parent who walks or cycles with their child to school.’
He added that councils were not doing enough to encourage ‘active travel’ – walking and cycling.
He added: ‘It’s not just about preventing lung disease and heart disease, it’s fitness and well-being and mental health and how society functions.
‘It’s about sitting in a car three to four hours a day when you are not using any energy and where the adverse effects of little movement are causing a problem.
‘From our point of view we want to see more active travel, walking and cycling.’
If measures to increase walking and cycling ‘inconvenienced’ people it is ‘too bad’ he said.
He added ‘Living increasingly in our homes with our computers and driving in our cars is leading to the fragmentation of our world.
‘It’s a very important thing this, children going to school in groups and being able to socialise.
‘If parents are taking a child to school in the back of a tractor, that’s not in any way encouraging this individual to function as a growing youngster.’
There is ‘no safe level’ of pollution – Professor Holgate warned – as even low levels of toxic fumes can trigger asthma in children.
Professor Holgate added that air pollution risks vary around the country.
In his home city of Southampton, filthy smoke from ships is a leading cause of pollution, while in London road transport is a major concern, the MPs heard.
And in Liverpool, Lime Street station is particularly dirty from the diesel fumes from trains, the professor added.