Sephie’s story

Two-and-a-half year old Sephie, lives in Walthamstow, London, close to the junction of two very busy roads. She is one of the many children whose lives are severely impacted by air pollution.

Always a very happy, active and adventurous child, when she turned two, she fell sick. She was struggling to breathe and was rushed to hospital. The doctors said she had a severe chest infection and her oxygen levels in her blood were extremely low. She was given anti-biotics and put on a nebuliser.

Sephie’s mum Amii (30) said: “She was limp and upset, lying on the family sofa wheezing heavily. She couldn’t eat or get up, because she was so exhausted trying to breathe. It was really distressing to see her working so hard to breathe. She’s so small.”

Since then, Sephie has had a series of severe chest infections occurring at an average of once a month. She’s been admitted to hospital twice, but now the family are trying to learn to manage her condition at home.

Following each attack Sephie needs to stay inside for around a week, or her condition deteriorates again quickly. This means Sephie has recently spent a quarter of her time stuck indoors.

And her parents fear the damage happening to Sephie’s lungs now because of pollution may affect her for the rest of her life.

Amii said: “As parents you naturally think about the future, and think about the worst case scenarios in your head”.

Sephie’s dad Bo (30), who works in data at Greenpeace UK, said: “It would be utterly heart breaking to have to say to her when she’s older that she can’t join in sports or go out with her friends because there is too much pollution outside for her to be safe. With pollution in cities as it is, we may end up with a whole generation of kids with damaged lungs”.

The impact of air pollution is particularly acute for children, with research showing negative effects for lung function, respiratory issues like asthma and even stunted lung growth.

Professor Jonathan Grigg, a leading expert on the impacts of air pollution on children’s health, said: “We have suspected a link between exposure to air pollution and increased risk of chest infection in children for some time. A recent review of the literature confirms that there is indeed an association between daily levels of air pollution and hospitalisation of children due to pneumonia. This finding adds to the wide range of health effects of air pollution that we see in children – including reduced lung growth and the development of asthma.”

(Nhung et al Short-term association between ambient air pollution and pneumonia in children: A systematic review and meta-analysis of time-series and case-crossover studies. Environ Pollut. 2017 Jul 25;230:1000-1008)