Research commissioned by London mayor Sadiq Khan has shown that British children at over 800 schools, nurseries, and colleges, are being exposed to levels of air pollution above EU limits, enough to put them at risk for long term health problems. The study focuses on 802 educational institutions, where tens of thousands of students, some as young as 3, are exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide in excess of legal limits. Such amounts have been acknowledged by governments to be harmful to health.
The study showed that more young people are affected by toxic air pollution than had been thought.
Mayor Khan called the results “devastating” and highlighted how this problem disproportionately affects poorer citizens:
“It is an outrage that more than 800 schools, nurseries and other educational institutions are in areas breaching legal air pollution limits,” said Khan.
“This is an environmental challenge, a public health challenge but also – and no one talks about this – it is fundamentally an issue of social justice. If you are a poor Londoner you are more likely to suffer from illegal air.”
He also called for a new clean air act by the government to address the problem, as well as a diesel scrappage scheme to get high pollution cars off the roads as quickly as possible.
The new results show double the number of schools are exposed to toxic air than previously thought. A 2015 report showed that 433 primary schools were exposed to such air pollution, but was kept secret by former mayor Boris Johnson, and was not published.
The EU legal limit is 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic meter of air, and 802 schools, nurseries, and colleges were found to be within 150 meters of areas with levels in excess of that limit. This included almost a third of London’s nursery schools, 20 percent of primary schools, and 18 percent of secondary schools.
Traffic is one major source of this pollution, including emissions from diesel vehicles, which are particularly harmful.
According to Dr. Francis Gilchrist, who is a consultant respiratory pediatrician at Royal Stoke University hospital, children are especially sensitive to the harmful effects of air pollution on the respiratory system:
“If something is not done about air pollution these issues are going to get worse and worse. There is definitely concern that air pollution is affecting children’s lungs – in particular it exacerbates respiratory illness, like asthma, and it predisposes children who are healthy to having repeated chest infections.”
“If you damage your lungs in childhood you are likely to see these effects right through into adulthood, so there is a lifelong impact.”