Pollution around schools

School children and exposure to unsafe levels of air pollution around schools.

The concentration of traffic is at it’s highest at school drop off and pick up times during the day causing a crescendo of air pollutants for schoolchildren to breath in. The vulnerability of schoolchildren breathing in toxic air when their lungs are still growing is of increasing concern. One charity found that 300 schools in London had illegal levels of pollution.

In the UK, 38 of 43 air quality zones exceed EU safety limits for nitrogen dioxide, a toxic air pollutant generated by car exhaust fumes.

The Health Minister has recently ordered Public Health England to further investigate the impact of air pollution is having on health given that it is thought that in the next 16 years, there will be 2.4.million cases of disease caused by poor air quality.

Some studies suggest that children currently aged 8 to 9 years old who have already been exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution, will have 10% less lung capacity permanently as a result. It is also thought that exposure to unsafe levels of air pollution affects intelligence in children as well as being a known cause for lung cancer, heart disease and dementia in the general population.

Pressure groups feel that the government are to slow to introduce measures to protect children from air pollution. For example, the government target of banning sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 is thought as too little too late and needs to be brought forward to 2030.

Awareness is increasing and there are several campaigns aiming to protect school children and bring about behaviour change to reduce air pollution, such as: Mums for Lungs are groups of London based parents campaigning for cleaner air especially for babies and school children. They have led several campaigns to increase awareness of air pollution and have lobbied government and local authorities for change. Membership is growing and campaigns are being rolled out to other parts of the UK.

“School streets” led by a parental campaign (Mums for Lungs), closes nearby school roads to all apart from pedestrians and cyclists during drop off and pick up times, to reduce harmful levels of nitrogen dioxide. Although started in London, the initiative is spreading to other cities in the UK.

Hydrogen powered buses have zero toxic waste with the only by product being water. Wrightbus, a Northern Irish firm have produced the buses that convert hydrogen to electricity and only need to be refuelled once per day for 5 minutes. £12 million has been invested by public transport services; London transport already have 10 single decker buses in action.

Ultra-low emission zone is a London initiative which commenced in April 2019 and targets the most polluted areas in London, Europe’s dirtiest air capital. An ongoing study by Kings College London is using Dyson backpacks for children to wear to investigate their exposure to pollution whilst getting to school. We await the outcome.


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