Why asthma makes me so angry
This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is a rage against the machine, for anyone who knows someone with asthma – or someone who won’t drive their car a bit less. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of (much calmer) ideas about parenting, click here.
From the Islington Tribune (25 November 2011, actual story here)
On Monday, Islington’s Green Party will reveal the full results of a survey it carried out along the A101 – Blackstock Road, Highbury Road and Highbury Grove – which showed that everyday pollution levels are 25 per cent higher than the EU safe limit, and in hotspots such as around Highbury Barn they are 75 per cent higher.
Readings at child height – as reported in the Tribune two weeks ago – are even worse.
I’m raging against the machine today. I’ve been an environmental campaigner for years. I even spent a decade working with Friends of the Earth, where we were taught if campaigners wanted to make the world a better place, then you better never get angry. If you want to win hearts and minds, then you need to be calm. Look your enemy in the eye, and answer rationally. Listen, laugh if you need to. But don’t get cross. Sometimes I wished I could get cross.
Well, that’s all changed now.
I’m furious about the air quality outside my house. Every single road I use. Every road you and I use is the same. Do you realise that pollution levels are 25 per cent higher try than the EU safe level on Blackstock Road, Highbury Road and Highbury Grove? Have you understood that it’s75 per cent higher at Highbury Barn? What does this mean – that I’m exposing my asthmatic 10 year old to the equivalent of smoking a packet of fags a day? Or is it worse than that?
That’s the same child that I worry about eating five veg a day, getting enough sleep at night, avoiding too much TV or sweets, or getting into the right school.
Asthma triggers are all sorts – perfume, cats, cold weather. You can kind of avoid those.
I know carpets are a problem, the build up of chemicals indoors. So I’ve got smooth floors and windows that open.
But what if the asthma trigger is the actual air you breathe? What the heck can you do then? Does my child need a bubble helmet and a particle shield to be able to safely breathe?
Do you know how many people have asthma in London? Or Islington? Or your street?
I bet everyone knows a family who has been plagued by asthma. The stats say one in five children carry an asthma inhaler.
- My daughter Nell needs a steroid dose to help her breathe – to stop her airways constricting and killing her. She needs it when she wakes up and when she goes to bed.
- She’s probably going to be shorter.
- She’s not going to be in the school sports teams.
- Sometimes her asthma is so difficult to control she can’t actually talk very well. Silence = an asthma attack.
- She was born in Islington.
- She isn’t going to grow out of this.
Nell’s unlucky. But she’s not unique: 5.4million people in the UK are receiving treatment for asthma. That’s a big number. Only about 200,000 of us live in Islington – so that’s 27 Islingtons of people who can’t breathe too well.
Doctors don’t really know why asthma levels have exploded – but that’s because doctors will do anything not to blame something. Why is it that when you go into hospital with a dodgy heart and you die an autopsy goes ahead? Wasn’t the death kind of obvious?
Half of London’s pollution comes from transport. Doesn’t that say something screamingly obvious? If doctors just spelt out the obvious – and said look this level of air pollutants is crazy. Imagine the doctors saying: “We are killing our youngest, most vulnerable people just because someone like their mum wants to drive to school or the shops.” Wouldn’t it help us all rethink how we get around Islington?
I don’t smoke because it’s expensive. And because I believe the doctors when they say it gives you cancer and heart and lung disease. Why can’t doctors be a bit braver and go on record. Why can’t they say to drivers that driving is cutting this child Nell’s life short just because someone wants to save a bit of time today, or hang outside the school gates with their engine running?
Why are we all being so well-behaved? We’re murdering our neighbours’ children, and our own children just because we will not get out of our cars, and Christmas is coming, so it’s all a bit difficult…
Every time you drive it’s making my child’s lung capacity – and her friends – another notch worse.
Now if I wasn’t being angry I’d say put your heavy goods into a bike basket, or a pannier or get a push along trolley. My family now has two trolleys we find it so useful. Use a buggy if you must. Or a wheelbarrow.
Instead I’m going to add a few particulates to the mix. If I ever see anyone sitting in a car with the engine running I’m going to wolf howl with despair. How can we do this to other people, let alone to our own families?
This study by Islington’s Green party has given us the figures everyone else wanted to hide. A bunch of mums and dads went out with a wet wipe and a few particulate readers. A few weeks later they came back with a shocking story. The soupy air quality on the roads we all use is likely to cut our life – my life – short by 11 years. Nell hasn’t even lived that long yet.
No wonder I’m angry. As they say in that famous Chinese proverb – be careful what you wish for.
Thank you to Islington’s Green party. For more details about the survey see at http://highburyonfoot.blogspot.com/