Published: 06:00, 20 June 2019
A mum-of-four is campaigning to improve air quality in Dartford after her newborn baby was left on life support by a severe respiratory infection.
Mandy Garford, 42, has spoken out to coincide with Clean Air Day 2019 - the UK's largest air pollution campaign.
The teacher and founder of the Dartford Clean Air project, believes "we have to take action, and it has to be now".
Mrs Garford, from Stone, said: "I have always been interested in air pollution, but when my son became ill, that made me think, this is real. It was absolutely devastating."
Her son, Henry, caught bronchiolitis at six-weeks-old, which saw him develop a chest infection and collapsed lung.
Last December, he had to be put on a ventilator to breathe, and was rushed from Dartford's Darent Valley Hospital to the intensive care ward at King's College Hospital in London.
Mrs Garford said: "Lots of children get bronchiolitis, but clinicians are telling us they have more severe symptoms and there are more cases in high pollution areas.
"We live in Dartford. We know pollution is at high levels. Dartford has four Air Quality Management Areas (AQAs), but until this experience, I was a passive bystander."
Henry was in hospital for 10 days, and has now fully recovered from his illness.
Mrs Garford added: "It’s devastating really, but I don’t want people to think that we are too late because you can change things and we can make a difference.
"I would love other families not to go through this, it’s one of those things that you never want anyone to go through.
"You kind of know that in childhood, children get ill, but this is a direct impact of air pollution."
Today, to mark Clean Air Day 2019, the Dartford Clean Air group will be running a stall at One Bell Corner in Dartford town centre from 10am to 12pm.
Mrs Garford, former Labour candidate for Stone House ward, said: "If we all did something small, we could make a real difference."
Suggestions include walking to school or work, using fragrance free, milder, cleaning products, not letting the car idle and planting leafy vegetation, such as spider plants.
In 2018, data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy revealed the traffic pollution increase in Dartford between 2011 and 2016 was almost triple the national average.
Figures showed CO2 emissions from freight and passenger transport rose by 9% in that time, making traffic responsible for 54% of the carbon dioxide released in Dartford in 2016.
The town's four AQAs are located at the approach to the Dartford Crossing, Dartford Town Centre, London Road, and the Bean Interchange.