Breathe GB warns of damage to lungs and performance in survey of training grounds

Britain’s future sporting performance could be hampered by air pollution because some training grounds are in areas with dangerously

Air pollution has major impact on children in sport, study warns | Environment | The Guardian 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Air pollution has major impact on children in sport, study warns

Breathe GB warns of damage to lungs and performance in survey of training grounds

Children at Manorfield primary in London at the launch of a Breathe GB study.
Children at Manorfield primary in London at the launch of a Breathe GB study. Photograph: PinPep/Rex/Shutterstock

Britain’s future sporting performance could be hampered by air pollution because some training grounds are in areas with dangerously high pollution levels, a report has revealed.

The Breathe GB study analysed pollution levels at 94 sporting sites, with one of the highest recorded levels at Birmingham’s Perry Park, host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Other important training grounds, such as the running track where Sir Mo Farah and Christine Ohuruogu trained, have pollution levels that breach World Health Organization (WHO) recommended limits.

The study suggests children exercising in areas of high pollution will experience stunted lung function that will limit their future sporting performance.

Dr Ian Mudway, a senior lecturer in respiratory toxicology at King’s College London, said: “A child growing up with asthma in a polluted city will have worse symptoms that will limit their potential to train … which is likely to have an impact on their optimal level of performance.”

Jonathan Grigg, a professor of paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at Queen Mary University, said: “There is very strong evidence that exposure to air pollution stunts children’s lung function. Children with clinically low lung function will have reduced exercise capacity.”

At the launch of the report on Tuesday morning, Mark Bergin, a PE teacher from Manorfield primary school in Poplar, east London, said: “There are elements that we can see now because there is such an increase in the number of children who have asthma pumps; I’ve noticed that over the last 10 years or so of working in education.”

To produce the report, campaign group The Air Team spoke with senior respiratory consultants, as well as leaders in physical education, to assess the effects of air pollution on children’s lung function and sporting ability.

They also assessed air pollution at 94 sports sites in England and found that 25 broke WHO recommended limits, while 52 came close to the threshold.

Perry Park was the third most polluted of the sites across London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Salford and Sheffield, with an annual mean level of 50 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) a cubic metre of air (μg/m3) – the WHO recommends a safe level of 40μg/m3.

The training grounds of Ridgeway Rovers, where David Beckham and Harry Kane formerly played, and Alpha & Omega FC, Raheem Sterling’s former youth team, have fine particulate matter levels (PM2.5) of 11, above WHO recommended limits.

St Augustine’s Hall, home of the Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets athletics club, had the highest air pollution levels out of those assessed, with 67 NO2 μg/m3.

Ben Paul, an Air Team campaigner who lives in Bloomsbury, central London with his 10-year-old son, said: “It’s like how it took time for the full health impacts of smoking to be understood. I think this could be a ticking time bomb for our children.

“Kids’ lung capacity can reduce by up to 14% if they live in a high pollution area. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get 14% more medals at the next Olympics?”

The Air Team is calling on sports organisations, MPs, schools and athletes to back their Breathe GB campaign. Its spokeswoman, Anella Wickenden, said:If you care about British sport, you need to care about air pollution.”

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