Posted tagged ‘asthma’

8 ways to deal with air pollution – Delhi dilemmas

January 26, 2017

Delhi is the world’s most polluted city. I think. London however has been shaping up nicely this January in its bid to reach toxic gold. Here’s my attempt to unpick the ridiculous suggestions mooted in a bid to help us all ‘beat London smog”. In case there is ANY doubt this is a parody. Words from Nicola Baird  (see for more info about my books and blogs). 

These doors at Senate House are the very ones that inspired George Orwell's famous Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. My room 101 doesn't have rats.

These doors at Senate House are the very ones that inspired George Orwell’s famous Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. My room 101 doesn’t have rats.


Now lots of the ES is super sensible and covers the London Air Pollution saga well. It’s where I heard about London having breached its annual toxic limit by the fifth day of January 2017. But it also runs daft stories like A breath of fresh air: here’s 6 ways to clean up your act and beat London’s toxic air from two of its regular feature writers – Susannah Butter and Phoebe Luckhurst. This piece is shameful because it wasn’t tongue in cheek. The ladies suggest  “REN’s flash defence anti-pollution spray creates a viscous layer that noxious chemicals will struggle to penetrate. It smells great too.”

Why does the news so often seem like an April Food at the moment: shouldn’t Butter and Phoebe be warning us that buying this stuff would be £24 badly spent? I remember writing an exposé about the Solomon Islands trying to flog tropical rainforest oxygen back in the 1990s… Now I think the islanders had it right, Londoners are so daft they’d have sniffed up bottles of this and passed them round their Uber. PM10s are not going to be watered down by an imaginary body spray.


On the #airpollution stream on Insta there is plenty of smogporn (if that’s a thing yet), but also  brands who view air pollution as an opportunity– such as koolmask, hypeingham and metro-mask. There’s even a bedside alarm LaMetricTime which displays CO2 levels allowing you to watch the levels rising…

Got to admire capitalism because everything is an opportunity. Those masks aren’t going to help London tackle air pollution are they?


Yup – eating avocado (vitamin D) and almonds (vitamin E) gives your body all the nutrients you need to fight toxic air pollution.  

I’ve read this. It must be right. It also gives zero thought whatsoever to how those pops of goodness arrived here (air freighted) or what damage avocado and super-thirsty almond plantations are doing where they are grown.

Written by me in 1998.

Written by me in 1998.


That was the advice from at least one school nurse to asthma sufferers. 

One of my daughters has had a tricky time with asthma and we’ve met a large number of asthma nurses. Some are great, but very few understood the big picture or factored in what it meant to be a child who likes to use their legs and eyes in the big outdoors…

It makes sense, because there are still a huge number of families who drive their kids to school, refusing to accept that their journey is not necessary. It’s still an aspirational desire to drive.

I’ve had a car in the past and of course it’ll be used it if it’s temptingly parked outside and you’re running late… but get rid of the car and you’ll always walk, or scooter, or bike to school which teaches your kids good habits (and burns off breakfast). If rates can justifably skyrocket (and i wish they wouldn’t if it kills independent stores) then so too can road taxes or the cost of the right to drive in a city in a diesel powered car. (I should add that I’m not that impressed by private petrol or electric vehicles either)


When environmental health officials are tricked (surely?) into saying it’s dangerous for kids to use the school playground be wary of following their advice.

Already most kids stay indoors far too much despite the indoor air pollutants from cooking, furniture, sprays and cleaning products create a toxic soup. They can’t be independent from a young age because of the dangers from cars knocking them over (not stranger danger). City kids need to know as much as possible about nature even if it is just jumping the weeds in the pavement cracks, pulling at last year’s hollyhocks languishing in the tree pits or hearing the blackbird singing on that house’s old TV aerial. Having a glimpse of even this diminished nature is what may help the kids figure out that life outdoors ought to be one of opportunity, not threat.

Front garden - there's a bird in the apple tree.

Front garden – there’s a bird
in the apple tree.


My poor Victorian home is subsiding. The only way insurers deal with this is waging war on anything green around the foundations, and so the buddleia and jasmine have to go.

It’s impossible for me to denude the bricks while my head is swirling with toxic London fog scenes and the sweet inner-city robin cheerily sings when it sees me heading towards its corner of the buddleia brandishing a bow saw.


Watching The Crown on Netflix ought to cancel out visions of toxic smog… but no, in episode 4, in December 1952 there are a dreadful three days which flood hospitals and ultimately kill as many as 12,000 people during the Great Smog of London

Churchill is hopeless at coping with this, writing it off as British weather, an “act of God”. At least Sadiq Khan seems to be looking at our problem head on. Now he’s got to show the sort of leadership that no one has yet dared to do against the car lobby, and in particular diesel vehicles. Couldn’t we just do something radical like shake up the whole way Londoners move around for a trial phase and see if it made a difference?


Of course I’m not training to run the marathon, but I’ve heard the moans. Toxic air wrecks “Marathontraining plans” so the runners have to head to the indoor gym and cycle on stationary bikes and indoor running tracks, rather than plod pavements.

Wouldn’t it be great if the generation obsessed by bucket lists and meeting personal challenges could start working together to force politicians to make London’s air cleaner – and by default other cities cleaner as well? Because if they did within a year no one would ever have to cancel their training run.

So where does that get us? Nine ways to clean up your act, or nine opportunities to speak up?  The only good seems to be that at last air pollution in London – and the impact cars, traffic (and airports) have on it – is at last being talked about by everybody, even if the messages aren’t always clear. Next step is action. Please.


Why’s there so much asthma?

January 17, 2013

This blog post is by Nicola Baird and her daughter Nell. It’s all about their dream to breathe in healthy air. Nicola writes a once-a-week blog about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children see She has also written a parenting book, see  Homemade Kids. More info at

Nell sweeping the ground with a stick. For fun!

Nell sweeping the ground with a stick. For fun!

My youngest daughter Nell, 11, has been in hospital twice after her asthma got out of control when she was just 4 and again at 10. Without medication she would have died. Nowadays she takes a preventer puff of steroid twice a day, and when necessary will also take a puff from the blue reliever. She is surprisingly cheery about this, as you can see in this one minute video 

More than 1.1 million kids have asthma in the UK. No one knows why it’s become a national epidemic… but air pollution doesn’t help. The links between fossil fuels and climate change are well known – burning carbon (eg, in gas for central heating or to heat water; or when you drive a car) adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Driving adds other nasties too, including air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sooty particulates.

Not so lovely London
London’s air pollution is hideous. Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on some of London’s busiest roads are currently over three times the legal limit. Given that, perhaps it is no surprise that the poorer you are in London the more likely you are to live by a massive road, and the more likely you are to die younger.

In December 2012 London Assembly’s health and environment committee pointed out that the long-term health impact of exposure to toxic air pollutants lead to life-shortening lung and heart conditions.

Right now there are more than 4,000 extra deaths each year in London from dirty air (particulates). This costs the economy a staggering £20 billion a year – twice the cost of obesity. Nell lives in Islington where about one in 15 deaths each year  (7.9 per cent) are “attributable to long-term exposure to current levels of anthropogenic particulate air pollution”. Yuck.

Don’t misunderstand: these statistics are not a reason for the lucky families who can buy or rent wherever they choose to escape to the country. They are a reason to ensure every child can breathe healthy air, wherever they live.

Clean up time
Air’s kind of invisible so it looks clean. But blow your nose at Holloway tube by the A1 and inspect the grimy contents or try taking a walk in white coat and gloves (ha ha!) and you’ll see evidence of some gruesome grime. Or just go talk to an asthmatic – anyone with lung disease actually.

Nell cleans up the pavement.

Nell cleans up the pavement.

“I can breathe. Right now I mean,” says Nell. “But I remember how I felt in hospital. Not being able to breathe feels tiring. You want to lie down. You’re all wheezy. And it’s hard to talk.”

When there’s a crisis families are too busy coping to be able to speak out. Nell and I worked on this blog post together when things are calm on the health front in a bid to get more families – from Mumsnet and other blog readers – to do something to tackle air pollution in 2013, the Year of Air. Here’s hoping you can help.

Here’s how to help

  • When you drive always turn off your engine if you are stationary or stuck in a traffic jam
  • Choose petrol over diesel
  • Avoid using your car as a shopping trolley. You could use a buggy, cycle paniers, a granny trolley (rebranded in our home as a “warrior trolley” so Dad doesn’t mind taking a spin to the shops) or opt for a supermarket home delivery.
  • Choose schools that are close to your home so the school run can be easily walked.
  • Sign up to the soon to get going Healthy Air Campaign to voice your support for government  action on air pollution. Some things can only really be effective if we do them together…

Can you give up your car when it rains?

April 25, 2012

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. Reasons to splash in those puddles and get singing in the rain rather than take the car which can, for some, cause sudden death.  For more info about parenting see my book Homemade Kids, or for my website click here 

I’ve waited until a real rainy spell to write this. That’s because when it’s raining it is SO tempting to jump in the car – rather than kit yourself out in brolly, wellies and that unglam raincoat. Obviously this post is particulary geared towards those people who live in towns and cities (ie, most of us)

The reason I insist my children walk to school is all about pollution.

Turns out that UK transport emissions cause 7,500 early deaths each year, see research here. I am horrified by this, but then thought well there are 60 million of us, so what does this figure really mean? But this fabulous mortality diagram from the Guardian is sure to get you thinking, see here.

That figure of 7,500 early deaths is like everyone in a medium sized primary school (of 300 children) dying, plus all the students in another 24 schools.

At what point did the UK get so big and uncaring that deaths equivalent to 25 primary schools stopped being newsworthy?

The Asthma Society claims:

  • There were 1,131 deaths from asthma in the UK in 2009 (12 were children aged 14 years or under).
  • On average, 3 people per day die from asthma.

The UK mortality figures used by the Guardian in its diagram show that 7,500 is a huge figure. After all in one year:

  • Transport accidents claim 2,284
  • Drug use deaths totalled 1,340
  • Swine flu was 149

To help make comparisons you need to know (all figures approx) that every day 1,700 people die in the UK .  So each year that’s 643,000 deaths, making it easy to lose – or forget about – those 7,500 early deaths from air pollution. Is that why #doubledip and #recession are the words trending on twitter, not #airpollution or #airquality?

It seems that we can chatter with no problems about being unable to afford petrol, car repairs or a holiday that starts at the airport. But in so doing ignore taking action – or sounding off about – on an issue we all could do something about.

A week before Lola was born my book on cars The Estate We’re In: who’s driving car culture (Indigo) came out. I know you can’t criticise car drivers (I am one after all, and have even taught three or four people how to drive). But I wish you could get put on the naughty step for driving.

Over to you with a FREE gift
If you’d like a FREE book: Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island about travelling around the UK on public transport in the 1980s – a wittily written nostalgic journey which takes in bad food, timetables and clone towns by the very funny American then answer this question and send me your email. The book is provided FREE by the lovely folk from World Book Night.

Q: Do you worry about air pollution or not?

Quiz on mums, sport and air pollution

March 21, 2012

One out of 11 children have asthma. Here are two.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. One out of 11 UK children have asthma. So what can a mum do to tackle air pollution indoors and out? Try this QUIZ and see how you do. For more info about parenting see my book Homemade Kids, or for my website click here 

If you need a reminder of what asthma does to kids, and how air quality effects children’s health see this older blog post and 10-year-old Nell’s video here.

Try this QUIZ – only 13 questions…
1 Indoor air pollution is increased by chemical fumes released from carpets, wallpaper, paint, fire-resistant materials and gas cookers. All build up in a well-insulated house. TIP: When you redecorate choose VOC-free (or low VOC) paints and glues which are easy to find in DIY stores (just look on the tin’s label).

[ ] a My house is drafty so I guess the pollution can drift off outside

[ ] b I rent and can’t redecorate – not my problem

[ ] c You mean volatile organic compounds? They’re on the naughty step.

2 Avoid anything made from MDF. TIP: Don’t put MDF shelves (or any glue mix material including plywood) above a radiator.

[ ] a Easier said than done. The kitchen’s MDF duh.

[ ] b Didn’t I tell you that I rent and can’t organise a kitchen refit?

[ ] c Does it tell me this at Ikea?

3 If you live and drive in a town or city use a petrol-fuelled car (or car club vehicle). TIP: Diesel isn’t as clean a fuel choice because the particulates released as you drive can trigger asthma attacks.

[ ] a Look I’ve got a diesel car and I’m not changing it. For anyone.

[ ] b I don’t remember this conversation at Car Supermarket.

[ ] c OMG what do paticulates do?

4 Obviously don’t drive as much – because all traffic pollutes. TIP: Aim to walk your children to school as many days as you can.

[ ] a You are one crazy lady. The roads aren’t safe enough for me to let my kids walk or cycle to school.

[ ] b Not got the time, sorry.

[ ] c Oh no, not blaming the school run again?

5 Teach your children road safety and look out for cycle training courses run for children, see

[ ] a You really are one crazy lady. See above.

[ ] b Don’t they teach this stuff at school?

[ ] c Not a bad plan.

6 Have a boy. TIP: Girls are more likely than boys to develop asthma by the time they are 18.

[ ] a Do you know how much IVF costs?

[ ] b What would Caitlin Moran say if I told her this?

[ ] c I’ve got daughters already, thank you very much.

7 Don’t live in the UK. Out of 56 countries the UK has more 13-14 year olds with asthma. TIP: You can get help from your GP and at

[ ] a How I long for the old days when mums just worried about OFSTED and SATs.

 [ ] b Great, just the excuse I need to move again.

[ ] c How will I cope with a mardy teen miserable about getting asthma?

8 Everyone with asthma is at risk of a wheeze attack when there is a spike in air quality. TIP: This isn’t just a western world problem – New Delhi is notoriously polluted and 16 out of 20 of the world’s worst polluted cities are said to be in China.

[ ] a This is just another reason to hate fog.

[ ] b Get it. Will cancel the trip to the Great Wall of China.

[ ] c I’m going to bookmark an air pollution app. Is there such a thing?

9 Get to know when air pollution is bad. Get 24-hour warning of pollution alerts at or if you live in London try

[ ] a Why is purple the danger sign? Shouldn’t it be red?

[ ] b At last I can use my screen grab to good purpose

[ ] c I’ve looked at the map, and it’s pretty bad everywhere.

10 Playing sport in the afternoon isn’t always wise – it can be a wheezy time if there’s high air pollution. It’s also the time when ozone levels are highest (which reduce lung function). Add to that pollen and it’s a recipe for those with dodgy chests (eg, asthma sufferers) to start wheezing. TIP: Avoid strenuous activity then, and learn to keep your medication close.

[ ] a Isn’t the Olympics held in the afternoon?

[ ] b Just the excuse I needed to avoid it, thank you.

[ ] c Is that why I keep hearing about sports people collapsing?

11 Good air quality is a right. Children competing in areas with poor air quality are much more likely to develop asthma than non-athletic children.

[ ] a What a load of lefty bananas.

[ ] b So tell me, are the London Youth Games at Crystal Palace in an area with poor air quality or good air quality?

[ ] c I’m starting to feel extremely worried.

12. When you’re not in a car use quieter, less congested roads and paths – even if it means a bit of a detour.

[ ] a Haha.

[ ] b Great excuse to wear my new blue suede trainers

[ ] c Do it already. Yes!

13 Don’t do what London Mayor Boris Johnson has done on super-polluted Marylebone Road and spray glue around in the hope that air pollution will be stuck together then disappear. It doesn’t work.

[ ] a Actually Spandex pants aren’t that great either.

[ ] b That’s a joke isn’t it?

[ ] c That’s it, I’m telling my councillors to do something in my local area.

Over to you – add what you got to the comment box. And thanks for joining in. Lots more info at

Mostly As
– I know what I’m getting you for your birthday, personalised number plates

Mostly Bs –  Perhaps you’ve got your head a little bit in the inhaler? Works better than sand though.

Mostly Cs – well done, you could help tackle this.

Video of what asthma feels like

November 29, 2011

Asthma is scary

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. Turns out that London’s air is far more polluted than I thought – and that triggers asthma. Nell,10, goes on screen in “Asthma is scary” to share with you what it feels like to struggle to breathe – and what she’d do if she was Prime Minister to sort it out for all of us. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of  ideas about parenting, click here.

Nell is well at the moment – thanks to the steroid medicine she takes morning and night. But after discovering how polluted the roads are where we live (ie, London), she gave me some quotes about what it feels like, and made a short video (above).

Nell, 10: “To have an asthma attack is incredibly frightening. You don’t want to talk. You want to burst into tears but don’t. The energy is drained from your body. When your asthma is so bad the medicine (puffer) doesn’t work. It’s scary looking at your breathing going down and down. Air pollution is invisible to human eyes, but it’s there and always will be there. But if people stopped using vehicles that pollute our planet Earth, then it might not be there.”

 Nell decided to do a video of how she felt, it’s rather in the upbeat style of Horrible Histories – despite talking about death and what she’d do if she was Prime Minister. For two mins of 10 year old journalism CLICK on this link: Asthma is scary
Over to you
I need to check the figures, but at a meeting in Islington this week it was revealed that our Mayor’s inability to sort out London’s air pollution is going to leave the capital with a fine from the EU of something like £300 million! That’s a crazy sum that could be used to improve public transport, or put towards placing cleaner filters on the diesel engines so beloved – and so polluting – used by London’s buses and black cabs. What ideas do you have for Transport for London or Boris to clean up our filthy air? Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones  claims Boris has chosen to use a special glue (dust suppressants) in a bid to make the high pollution levels drop at two key monitoring sites on Marylebone Road and London Bridge. It’s laughable: and hardly sorting out the real problem? More info about it from this site too.

Any super dry tips?

October 3, 2011

This blog is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. For more info about my book Homemade Kids click here

Using hangers to dry in a small space (off the swing) and then move straight to the wardrobe saves time.

Like buses, good ideas always seem to come in quick succession.

I’ve been trying to find ways to keep my electricity costs down (do this and you can pretty much bet it’s also good for the environment) and save me time.  Reading the amazing American environmentalist, Sandra Steingraber’s new book, Raising Elijah (more on this in another post), she suggests that using clothes hangers to dry clothes outdoors, or in, saves time.

Well it means you sort the clothes as you pull them out of the washing machine so that they are dried ready to go straight into a wardrobe. This is genius. Sandra also points out that it means your family’s clothes also last longer (no spoiling by the tumble dryer) and causes you less stress (because you don’t have to struggle to match stray socks, tangled jumpers or even need to iron shirts and blouses).

Hanging up the washing is hard for small people, so they can't help as well as I'd like.

I was just thinking about doing this when I had a house guest, Chris, to stay from Australia who has two children (now almost grown up). He saw my crowded drying line and noticed my “Is it going to rain?” panics. So as a leaving gift he presented me with 20 plastic hangers that can do the drying/hanging job. He also taught me the three-shake rule – to shake out the creases before you hang the garment up – and a clever technique with clothes pegs to stop the hangers being blown off the line.

Actually I can hang clothes up fine on a washing line, but my children and partner find it hard. This technique with hangers makes it much easier for shorter and (dare I say it) kack-handed people to hang up wet clothes.

What a result.

Bye bye tumble dryer
Another good tip – now long ago adopted at Mayhem Corner – is to use a yacht dryer to dry clothes in small spaces. It’s also a good way to dry cloth nappies, marry socks, keep underwear and hankies together and the fastest way of removing 20+ items if rain does threaten. Maybe take one along as a flat warming or new baby present…

Helps ease asthma too
Sandra Steingraber even advocates drying the washing indoors at night for health benefits. Damp, warm air is much more comfortable for an asthma sufferer to breathe (like her son Elijah) than centrally-heated dried-out air. As I normally put my washing machine on in the morning and then curse it for making me late (because I like to hang up the washing before leaving home), this new schedule could better suit my own timetable as well as ease my daughter Nell’s asthma symptoms.

Do you have any other clever household tips that have revolutionised a really dull task?

Get Fit With Azmain

“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.”



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