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A smaller study, in California, showed higher levels of traffic-related “air pollution correlated with increased DNA damage in children” Children may be especially vulnerable to the effects of telomeric DNA dam due to their physical development as well as developing immune system,” said the scientists.

Children are at risk of dangerous levels of air pollution in cars because exposure to toxic air is often far higher inside than outside vehicles, a former government chief scientific adviser has warned.

Prof Sir David King, says walking or cycling to school would be much better for children’s health.  Air pollution is known to damage children’s developing lungs but recent research also indicates it harms children’s ability to learn at school and may damage their DNA.

“Children sitting in the backseat of vehicles are likely to be exposed to dangerous levels [of air pollution],” said King. “You may be driving a cleaner vehicle but your children are sitting in a box collecting toxic gases from all the vehicles around you.”

“Air pollution hasn’t been taken seriously,” said Holgate. “There is a very strange situation where the government has to make laws by being taken to court repeatedly. In my view it is really quite appalling that we haven’t started to deal with this properly and put children’s and adults’ health first.