A boy and his dog want to show that air pollution can be much worse near the ground – especially near a toddler or stroller (and many dogs). Surprisingly, this is not where air pollution is monitored in the UK, where some of the highest asthma rates in Europe occur. There the monitors, mounted on lamp posts or signs, are almost two meters above the ground.
Tom Hunt, a teenager from Chesham, wants to change all that. And what better way to raise awareness of the problem than taking to the streets with a portable air monitor on your Labrador Retriever’s collar? Bagheera – Baggy for short – is the perfect size to test the air a child would breathe. And with her shiny black coat and her commitment to the task, she even turns heads in parliament.
The team gathered evidence by walking the streets of Chesham, a commuter town about 30 miles northwest of central London. Worryingly, the results showed that Baggy was exposed to air pollution two-thirds higher than levels seen by lamppost monitors.
Air pollution weakens the lungs, especially in growing children, and creates the conditions for chronic illness. Studies have shown that nitrogen dioxide, which reacts with sunlight to form smog, is worse at the child’s breath. And the bad news about bad air has a new twist: studies have shown a correlation between higher levels of air pollution and the spread and severity of Covid-19 cases. And, according to a study in healthy dogs and children, it’s also dangerous for pets and causes neuroinflammation.
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With the evidence Baggy received, Tom asked the UK government to monitor child-level air pollution. Part of the campaign is also to strive to increase the height of the strollers and to ensure that they are away from the car exhaust.
Bad air doesn’t end on the street, and neither does Tom’s efforts. In a new book on the subject, he looks at indoor air pollution, a problem that arises from the use of chimneys and a whole range of everyday products that give off gas, such as furniture and aerosols. Since dogs share both our home and our walks, it is a survival guide for them too.