ULEZ and other clean-air policies ‘urgent’ to protect children’s health, says mother of asthmatic boy

“The impact of toxic air is very real and proven by all the data. We have loads of studies that show air pollution is having an effect on children’s health.”
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A clean-air campaigner whose son recently spent two weeks in hospital with respiratory issues has reiterated her support for the ULEZ expansion, after recent analysis showed every London borough is exceeding toxic air limits.

Ruth Fitzharris, an executive assistant and spokesperson for the campaign group Mums for Lungs, said her son has missed weeks of school already this year due to being hospitalised with an asthma attack in January.

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A public supporter of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), Ms Fitzharris said the scheme remains a key initiative if children living in London are to grow up healthy, having been told by several specialists involved with her son’s treatment that pollution in the capital is damaging young people’s lungs.

Ruth Fitzharris’ son in hospital following an asthma attack in August 2022. Credit: Ruth Fitzharris.Ruth Fitzharris’ son in hospital following an asthma attack in August 2022. Credit: Ruth Fitzharris.
Ruth Fitzharris’ son in hospital following an asthma attack in August 2022. Credit: Ruth Fitzharris.

A total of 14 boroughs also recorded five or more sites exceeding the health body’s legal limit, set at a higher 40 µg/m3.

Sadiq Khan described the data as “more shocking proof that London’s air quality has been in serious breach of the recognised global standard”.

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Mums for Lungs, which was founded in Brixton in 2017 by Jemima Hartshorn, is one of the groups which has consistently backed clean-air policies in London, including the ULEZ expansion.

“We are basically in support of any scheme that is likely to have an impact,” Ms Hartshorn said.

“We need to reduce the sources of air pollution, and in London the main sources are cars and wood burning, and much more action will be needed.”

‘The impact on family life…can’t be underestimated’

Ms Fitzharris said her son started getting sick in 2018, when he was one and a half, with his health getting so bad that he ended up having to see a respiratory consultant.

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She said the consultant told her: “Air pollution is impacting children in London, and I would advise you to avoid traffic-filled roads and busy roads.”

After being told the same by other specialists, Ms Fitzharris said the clarification of the effect air pollution was having on her son was revealing.

“The impact of toxic air is very real and proven by all the data. We have loads of studies that show air pollution is having an effect on children’s health,” she said.

Since then, her son has continued suffering from respiratory issues, and this January spent two weeks in hospital.

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“He’s missed lots of school this year. He’s been on regular medication since 2018. The impact of asthma on parents and children’s lives is big. There’s missing school, hospital appointments to go to, it’s prevented me from getting back to work for a long time.”

“The impact on family life of having a sick child can’t really be underestimated,” she added.

Ruth Fitzharris’ son first fell ill in 2018. Credit: Ruth Fitzharris.Ruth Fitzharris’ son first fell ill in 2018. Credit: Ruth Fitzharris.
Ruth Fitzharris’ son first fell ill in 2018. Credit: Ruth Fitzharris.

On the ULEZ expansion, Ms Fitzharris said she is “very much in favour” of the mayor’s decision “because clean air zones are proven to work”.

“It’s clear that this needs to be taken really seriously, and it’s urgent if this generation of children are going to have their best chance to grow up healthily.”

The mayor on toxic air in London

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Following the publication of the recent City Hall data, Mr Khan said the research was proof that the ULEZ expansion is necessary to reduce air pollution in London.

The mayor said: “London’s toxic air is leading to children growing up with stunted lungs and causes around 4,000 premature deaths a year – with the greatest number of attributable deaths in London’s outer boroughs.

“This data is yet more shocking proof that London’s air quality has been in serious breach of the recognised global standard - and it’s a problem in every single part of the capital.

“I have made tackling toxic air pollution a priority since I was first elected in 2016, and we have made huge progress since then. However, I am determined to do all I can to ensure that children now and the next generation of Londoners can grow up breathing cleaner air – wherever they live in the capital.

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“This is why I made the difficult decision to expand the ULEZ London-wide - to help save lives and to give all Londoners the right to breathe cleaner air.”

Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the ULEZ to cover all of greater London is planned for August 29. Greater London Authority.Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the ULEZ to cover all of greater London is planned for August 29. Greater London Authority.
Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the ULEZ to cover all of greater London is planned for August 29. Greater London Authority.

The financial impact of the £12.50-a-day ULEZ expansion to outer London has bred concern from some groups, including several charities and, more recently, the Builders Merchants Federation.

Tony Devenish AM, City Hall Conservative’s environment spokesperson, said: "The science is clear: Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ expansion would have a negligible effect on air quality, while having a devastating impact on low income families, businesses and charities.

“Sadiq Khan should scrap this disastrous plan and start tackling air pollution where it is, instead of taxing people where it isn’t.”

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Four London councils, plus Surrey County Council, recently launched a judicial review into the ULEZ expansion, which was granted approval to proceed to trial on two of its five grounds.

A hearing is expected this summer.

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