There could be long-term health implications in the worst-hit cities.

Young children walking along busy roads are being exposed to a third more pollution than adults because they’re small, according to the latest research. 

A study released by Global Action Plan conducted experiments in Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and London found that children were in more danger from vehicle exhaust fumes because they were closer to them. 

You might think that children being driven to school are in a safer position, but the study found that children inside a vehicle were exposed to double the pollution of those walking down busy roads. 

The research scientists used thermal imaging techniques to track CO2, nitrogen oxide (NOx), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and diesel particulate emissions. The findings also revealed that pollution levels were 2.5 times lower for children walking along quiet roads than along busy roads. 

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Air pollution can result in reduced lung growth for children, worse levels of asthma and even pneumonia – that’s according to research by Professor Jonathan Grigg from Queen Mary University in London.

‘Children’s lungs are especially vulnerable for those at primary school and younger, as they are still developing,’ said Grigg. ‘It’s critical that we protect the health of our children’s lungs from air pollution, in order to prevent lasting damage. Although parents can reduce this impact by walking on less polluted roads and taking public transport, the UK government must take further steps to reduce toxic emissions from all roads.’

A separate study by Unicef found that 4.5m children in the UK are growing up with unsafe levels of particulate pollution, with the worst areas being Birmingham, London, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol. Researchers from Kings College London did tests on roads closed for this year’s London marathon and saw pollution levels drop by 89 percent. 

Amy Gibbs from Unicef UK said: ‘We already know that air pollution is harmful, but these findings force us to face a shocking reality about the acute impact on children’s health. Worryingly, a third of our children could be filling their lungs with toxic air that puts them at risk of serious long-term health conditions.’