Growing pollution from traffic fumes mean people with breathing problems should live at least 1,000 feet from a busy road, scientists warn today.
The advice, which is almost impossible to implement in all but the most rural of areas, is a startling warning of the health impact of air pollution.
Scientists from the University of California said emissions from diesel engines were of particular concern for asthmatics, because it generates higher concentrations of harmful particles and nitrogen oxides.
Their work comes just days after British scientists blamed the Government’s support for diesel cars for creating a health crisis which kills 7,000 people a year.
The new study, published in the Lancet today, reviews five years of research which found pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide can cause serious cell damage to airways, triggering asthma attacks.
It concluded that the pollutants pumped into the air by diesel cars - including tiny particulates and black carbon particles - can trigger asthma attacks and are worst close to roads.
The paper says: ‘Patients with asthma should ideally live at least 300 metres (1,000 feet) away from major roadways, especially those with heavy truck traffic.
‘Traffic-related air pollution can exacerbate asthma but concentrations of motor vehicle emissions such as ultrafine particulate matter and black carbon particles decrease substantially by 300 metres.’
The authors, Professor Michael Guarnieri and Prof John Balmes, also advised motorists with asthma to drive with the windows closed.
They wrote: ‘In vehicle exposure during commuting with open windows can also be very high.’ Air pollution is particularly worrying for children, causing long-term problems if they are exposed to pollution early in life.
The authors wrote: ‘In a study of ten European cities, 14 per cent of the cases of incident asthma in children and 15 per cent of all exacerbations of childhood asthma were attributed to exposure to pollutants related to road traffic.
‘Young children with asthma have long been regarded as a group who are very susceptible to adverse effects from air pollution because of their developing lungs, immature metabolic pathways, high ventilation rates per bodyweight, and increased time exercising outdoors.’
One of Britain’s top Government advisors this week said the Government had ‘blindly’ promoting diesel cars for decades.
Professor Frank Kelly, chair of the Department of Health’s committee on air pollution, said ministers had gone down the ‘wrong route’ by encouraging drivers to switch away from petrol.
He said diesel engines - championed since the 1970s because they were thought to emit less greenhouse gases - could be responsible for more than 7,000 deaths a year in Britain.
Half of the two million new cars bought each year in the UK are now diesel, up from just 14 per cent in 2000. There are nine million diesel cars on the road - more than at any time in history - and three million diesel vans.
The UK is already facing £300million in European Commission fines for repeatedly failing to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution.
And the Government is to come under further pressure today, when the parliamentary environment watchdog announces a new inquiry into failed efforts to tackle air pollution.
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee will examine what progress has been made to tackle poor air quality since it warned about the need for urgent action on pollution in a report in 2011.
MP Joan Walley, who chairs the select committee, said: ‘Air pollution is thought to contribute to more deaths than passive smoking, traffic accidents or obesity, yet the UK is still breaching European safety limits nearly five years after EU fines were first threatened.
‘The Environmental Audit Committee warned four years ago that an urgent policy response, greater public awareness and a shift in transport policy was required if air quality was to be improved.
‘We will be examining what progress has been made by central and local government since then in removing the most polluting vehicles from the road and encouraging cleaner forms of transport.’
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