Read the stories from United Kingdom

Ruth Fitz Harris from United Kingdom

My son began having wheeze (probable asthma) attacks during a very intense heatwave in London during 2018. He had two life-threatening attacks that summer, other severe and less severe ones. The following year he 3 and the year after that 2. He has missed months of nursery. I have struggled to get back to work. It has been very frightening for both of us. He has had over 30 hospital appointments, probably the same number of doctor's appointments. It has made it really hard to work, which as a single parent is a really big problem.

I have also witnessed another boy have a life-threatening asthma attack in the hospital bed opposite. He deteriorated so quickly and so badly that around 15-20 staff rushed in, emptied the ward of other patients, he was taken to an intensive care unit. Witnessing this, along with seeing my son struggle to breathe has left me with post-traumatic stress disorder. People don't realize what an asthma attack looks like and what it takes to recover. You can't sleep because you are coughing, vomiting from coughing and have to have medication intravenously as well an inhaler at such frequent intervals that you can't rest.

Lucy Facer from United Kingdom

My 4 year old was first diagnosed with wheeze at 18 months, we spent most nights awake with him for several hours as he was unable to lie down and get his breath. This had a significant effect on his learning and cognitive development, and he fell behind on his language. From the age of three he has been treated for asthma and started sleeping at night. Since then he has been catching up in time for starting school. His attacks are worse when air pollution levels are high. Today is a moderate level for air pollution and as he is sitting playing next to me he is wheezing.

Ruth Border from United Kingdom

My eldest son became very ill with Bronchiolitis several times as a baby in the winter of 2015 and then again as a one-year-old in 2016. It was alarming to see him struggling to breathe. At our local A&E the doctors asked if our flat was damp. This was alarming to hear, but this wasn't the case for us. The weather being damp was also not a factor, as I grew up by the sea (which is extremely cold and damp in winter) and I had not heard of this lung condition before.

One A&E doctor suggested that Bronchiolitis is more prevalent in London due to the higher levels of pollution. This piqued my interest in the quality of the air around us.

When I was pregnant with my second in 2018, the midwife at my antenatal appointments had me take a Carbon Monoxide breathalyser test at each appointment. When I walked, the test was green. When I drove my diesel car, the CO levels were very high to the point where the midwife would ask if I was smoking and to get my boiler checked out at home. At no point was the fact I had driven in my car taken seriously or considered a factor. If there were breathalyser tests for everyone to measure for car emissions, I think we would find we are breathing in a lot more toxic air than we realize.

Mother from United Kingdom

It’s very hilly in Bath and there are no bike lanes, so cycling or scooting to school is not easy or safe. We live close enough to my children’s school that we can walk, but most other parents have to drive: there’s no designated school bus, nor is there a safe drop off point away from school.

Because of COVID, parents have been asked to drive right up to the front door and drop the kids there (without parking). This usually means a long queue of cars waiting to drop off or pick up their children, usually with the engines on.

The streets outside the school are very narrow with high walls, which trap pollution. Big SUV’s churning out diesel career up them once the children have been dropped off or picked up. The poisonous smell worries me, but we have no choice except to walk in their fumes.

I know how bad this is for my children’s health. One of my daughters has asthma and she’s already been to hospital in an ambulance in the middle of the night because of a bad attack. If they breathe this terrible air twice a day every day they go to and from school, what does this mean for their growing bodies? How many more hospital visits might it mean?

There is even a clean air zone in Bath, but I walk in it most days: it stinks of diesel and is full of cars and traffic jams. I really can’t tell the difference from before we had it.

Imagine if the council could invest in designated bike lanes across the whole city, and subsidise long term rental (or purchase) of electric bikes so people didn’t have to drive to school any more. Or even if we had school buses like they do in the U.S. (electric of course!!!).


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