STARTING next week, the nation’s longest-running soap will feature a storyline highlighting the devastating impact that air pollution is having on children’s lungs up and down the country to its millions of viewers.
In the tense scenes to be aired Monday night, 12-year-old character Liam Connor Jr (played by Charlie Wrenshall) will be seen fighting for his breath as paramedics battle through Weatherfield’s highly congested streets and double-parked cars to reach him.
Once safely at hospital, Liam, accompanied by his fraught mum Maria, will learn that he had suffered an asthma attack, which the doctor believes could have been triggered by air pollution from traffic fumes.
Just eight months ago, a landmark inquest in London found air pollution made a material contribution to the death of schoolgirl Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who suffered a fatal asthma attack at nine years old. Her death certificate became the first in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.
Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation is proud to have advised Coronation Street’s scriptwriters to ensure that the storyline delivers an accurate and responsible portrayal of a child having an asthma attack, including symptoms to look out for in the build-up to an asthma attack; how an asthma attack looks and feels; how people surrounding someone having an asthma attack may behave and what they should do; how asthma would be treated and diagnosed as an emergency hospital admission; and how the patient and their family adapt to life and ongoing treatment, post-diagnosis.
Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said:
Air pollution is at lethal levels in many parts of the country, and not enough is being done to make people aware of the damage it is doing to their health and to tackle the problem. For people with existing lung conditions, it can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks. Being able to raise awareness of the issue with Coronation Street’s large and diverse audience is a dream come true. Particularly now, when the UK government can help to protect everybody’s health by committing to world-leading air pollution limits, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
“We all have our part to play in reducing harmful levels of air pollution, and one way to do that is to campaign to raise awareness of air quality issues impacting people’s health in your local area, like characters Sally and Maria.”
John Whiston, Managing Director of Continuing Drama and Head of ITV in the North for ITV Studios, said:
“Clean air is an issue that affects us all wherever we live but particularly a small urban street like Coronation Street. So it felt right to look at the wider environmental issue through Liam’s asthma and traffic on The Street. Hopefully, as well as being an issue that provides drama and divides our community, it also throws a light on what we can all be doing to clean up the air we breathe.”
Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, with 36,000 premature deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure. It can worsen or ‘trigger’ existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma and COPD, and it can also lead to the development of new conditions in adults and children.
Children and babies, including those in the womb, are more vulnerable to polluted air than adults because their airways are smaller and still developing. For those growing up in highly polluted areas, air pollution has been found to stunt the growth of their lungs.
Air pollution in Manchester and the UK…
While Coronation Street may be set in a fictional town, in real life, over half a million children under the age of 16 are growing up in areas of Greater Manchester that are affected or surrounded by extremely high levels of pollution. Parts of Greater Manchester have the worst rates of childhood asthma in the country, and there are also higher rates of childhood asthma hospital admission across Greater Manchester than the rest of England.
In Spring 2021, Manchester’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ) will launch with the aim of reducing pollution levels across all 10 local authorities; but without plans to include restrictions on private cars, its proposed impact has come under scrutiny by leading health charities and environmental campaigners.
A recent report commissioned by the charity revealed that the problem is country-wide, with almost a quarter of all schools and colleges in Britain (8,549) found to be in areas where air pollution is above WHO guideline limits.
Wednesday’s episode…Maria joins Sally’s campaign…
In Wednesday night’s episode (25th August), a shocked Maria will join Sally’s (played by Sally Dynevor) campaign to reduce traffic on the street. Maria also pledges to give up her car.
Samia Longchambon, who plays Maria Windass, admits that to begin with, her character is not that bothered about Sally’s campaign:
“It’s not until the problem directly impacts on her and Liam’s health that she takes up the mantle.
“Liam has a bit of a chesty cough. One day he’s playing football on the street, then suddenly, he collapses, struggling to breathe. Maria doesn’t know what’s going on. She just sees him gasping for air, struggling to breathe, and it’s terrifying. At the hospital, the doctor says his asthma could have been caused by pollution, and because there’s been an increase in traffic and pollution on the street, Maria just sees red. She’s fuming, and it becomes her mission to get rid of all the vehicles causing the heavy pollution on the street.”
Julia Kovaliova, a busy mum-of-three from Manchester, whose 11-year-old son Maksim has asthma triggered by air pollution, knows a thing or two about campaigning for clean air. She is co-founder of Trees Not Cars, a group that recently won a court case preventing a former retail park, situated next to a primary school, from being used as a temporary 440-space car park.
“Decision-makers and councils can get it wrong. If you are prepared to take action and stand up for what you believe in, you can achieve good results and positive change.”
Getting help and advice:
Last year, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation responded to over 30,000 calls to its helplines which are run by volunteers and trained asthma nurses.
If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, you can call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, or visit: www.asthma.org.uk. You can also WhatsApp us on 07378 606 728. If you think you are having an asthma attack, call 999.
The British Lung Foundation runs a dedicated helpline for people affected by all lung conditions, including asthma, COVID-19, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
For help and information, visit the website www.blf.org.uk, or call the Helpline on 03000 030 555. To sign up as a Clean Air Hero, visit the British Lung Foundation’s Clean Air Hub blf.org.uk/take-action/clean-air.