Toxic air could be cause for higher depression rates in London Teens

Exposure to Air Pollution and toxic air, largely from diesel emissions, could be contributing to mental health issues in young Londoners, research has shown.

King’s College London scientists found teenagers living around sources of pollution were more than twice as likely to have depression, compared to those in areas where the air is relatively clean.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council and published in the Psychiatry Research journal, cross-referenced pollution data from monitoring stations across the capital with detailed interviews of 142 sets of twins, at the ages of 12 and 18.

It found that pollution exposure in the 12-year-olds was not linked to mental health problems but by 18 there was a “substantially elevated likelihood of depression”. In all, 32 per cent of teens who lived in areas with high levels of PM2.5 particulates had experienced depression by the age of 18, compared to 14 per cent living in parts with cleaner air, according to the study.

Depression could be linked to inflammation in the growing adolescent brain and by the particles blocking airways. Researchers took into account variables such as sex, neighbourhood, smoking, and family psychiatric history. Living near to noisy roads can also add to stress fuelling mental health problems.

The study highlighted that children may be susceptible to neurological injury from air pollution because their brains are still developing and they are likely to have less-established natural barriers in the lungs to protect against inhaled particles.

“Illegal” Air Pollution has Direct Impact on Children

The scale of the UK’s air pollution crisis has become more evident over recent years – especially its impact on children. Reports have emphasised the links between illegally poisonous air and heart disease, dementia, reduced cognitive ability and asthma deaths.

In England and Wales 1,320 people died of asthma last year, a sharp rise of more than 25% over a decade, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.  Every year, air pollution kills 40,000 people across Britain. Roughly a quarter of these deaths happen in London.

The recent tragic case of Ella Kissi-Debrah has brought home once again how air pollution is so dangerous for our children. Ella, a nine-year-old who lived close to the South Circular Road in Hither Green, died in 2013 after a series of respiratory problems.  During that time, local air pollution levels regularly breached EU legal limits. Her last fatal seizure happened during a spike in air pollution levels.

Her mother, Rosamund, has fought to highlight the role she believes pollution played in Ella’s death. New evidence submitted to the attorney general in support of a new inquest from Stephen Holgate, professor of immune-pharmacology at the University of Southampton, stated that there was a “real prospect that without illegal levels of air pollution Ella would not have died”.

He said nitrogen dioxide levels – primarily from diesel vehicles – around the child’s home were consistently above the legal limit of 40 µg/m3. He gave his “firm view” that Ella’s death certificate should reflect air pollution as a causative factor.

A fresh inquest has just been granted. One of the grounds was that permitting illegal levels of air pollution was a potential breach of human rights under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which protects the right to life.

Diesel is the Major Offender

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has implemented a plan that is a step in the right direction. He put a £10 charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city and this will now rise to between £100 and £200 a day depending on the offending vehicle.  The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is being introduced from April this year. Unless Diesel cars, for example, meet the tougher Euro 6 standard, they will have to pay the charge.

Phasing out diesel buses and lorries will go a step further but, ultimately, getting rid of diesel full stop is the only answer.

Paris plans to ban diesel cars by 2024 and all but electric cars by 2030. There’s no reason that London shouldn’t beat them to it. The financial incentives are strong. Air pollution costs Britain more than £20bn each year, according to a study by the Royal College of Physicians. Even the most aggressive regulatory action will cost us only a fraction of that total.

Are you at Risk?

In the meantime, understanding the levels of air pollution where you live or where you plan to move to is essential, especially if you have a young family or are planning to start one. Future Climate Info’s partners Earthsense are working closely with councils round the country to deploy air quality monitoring in real time.

Earthsense’s unique MappAir data is now available in Future Climate Info’s Premium Environmental Report. It provides a vital indicator of air quality in the vicinity of the home and is essential reading for anyone thinking of moving home.

For more information, contact us on 01732 755180 or email info@futureclimateinfo.com

 

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