Improving toxic air in the capital’s schools

Poor air quality on London’s streets can contribute to illegally high levels of indoor pollution in some school buildings. This has lead the Mayor of London to put in place measures to improve air quality in and around schools. Education Business reports on the progress so far

A new report commissioned by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan predicts that as a result of London’s action to improve air quality, no schools in the capital will be exposed to illegally high levels of air pollution by 2025.
The report, which was carried out by air quality and climate change emissions consultants Aether, found that the number of primary schools in areas exceeding legal limits for harmful NO2 is projected to drop dramatically from 371 in 2013 to just four in 2020.
The number of secondary schools is expected to fall from 82 in 2013 to only one in 2020, with no schools at all in high polluting NO2 areas by 2025.
So what is the Mayor of London doing to achieve these targets?

Assessing the situation

To understand the impact of air pollution on schools, last year, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan commissioned a report assessing indoor air quality at five London primary schools and one nursery. The study by University College London and the University of Cambridge, found differences in pollution levels between classrooms depending on a range of factors, including building characteristics, design and maintenance. A significant proportion of indoor air pollution is due to outdoor air pollution.
For NO2, which was strongly related to the risk of asthma attacks and asthmatic symptoms, outdoor sources accounted for 84 per cent of the variation between classrooms, highlighting the importance of tackling emissions from road traffic and preventing it from entering the building.
The findings suggested that the protection offered by the building increased the further away it was from the busiest roads and that airtight buildings may offer greater protection. The report also found that in most classrooms annual exposure to small particles was higher than recommended World Health Organization guidelines, although this was caused by a combination of indoor and outdoor sources.

Measures to improve air quality

Some of London’s most polluted primary schools have started to implement measures to help protect pupils for polluted air, with help from a £1 million fund from the Mayor of London.
Detailed air quality audits were carried out in 50 schools across 23 London boroughs. The audits assessed the air quality in some of the capital’s worst polluted schools and have made a series of recommendations to protect pupils.
These include major infrastructure measures, such as closing roads or moving playgrounds and school entrances, as well as targeting indoor pollution using improved ventilation systems, and installing green ‘pollution barrier’ hedges, tackling engine idling outside schools and promoting cycling and walking.
The audits were conducted by global engineering consultancy WSP, who spent three months in schools assessing indoor and outdoor air pollution sources, looking at how students travel to school, and reviewing local walking routes including traffic crossings.

One such school that has implemented a range of measures to improve its air quality is St Mary’s Bryanston Square Primary School in Westminster, close to the busy Marylebone Road. The school has installed and tested a new filtration system to reduce pollution inside the school. This is being delivered with £20,000 in funding from the Mayor and Westminster Council.
This coming summer, the school will trial a year-long closure of the busy road, Enford Street, outside its entrance, to traffic at the start and end of the school day.
The staff car park has been turned into a garden and all staff and pupils are encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport.
The school has also worked with British Land to install a ‘green wall’ – a variety of plants across a playground wall – to screen students playing outside from nearby traffic pollution.
Pupils have also been involved in a ‘no-engine idling’ campaign to help educate their parents on reduce harmful emissions.
Emily Norman, headteacher at St Mary’s Bryanston Square Primary School, said: “Air quality is a big concern here at St Mary’s School. Our children are extremely aware of the dangers, both for their own health and for the community at large. We’re working to combat this problem ourselves, by encouraging more sustainable travel options, campaigning to stop vehicle idling at the school gates, and turning the carpark into a garden. The children have led the way by monitoring traffic on nearby roads.
“We are very pleased to be part of the Mayor’s air quality audit, as it has identified ways to tackle air quality, such as closing the street to traffic at key points in the school day and air filtration inside the classrooms. This will make a real difference to our children’s well-being at school, and significantly enhance the school’s work in this area.”
50 of the audited schools have received a £10,000 starter grant, and other London schools located in areas exceeding legal air pollution limits can apply for green infrastructure funding.
Other measures

Poor air quality on London’s streets can contribute to illegally high levels of indoor pollution in some school buildings, which is why the Mayor has rapidly introduced measures to cut traffic emissions including the T-Charge in central London for the oldest, more polluting vehicles and bringing forward the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to April 2019.

 London Boroughs have been provided with a total of £237 million by TfL to help them manage their streets. They will be encouraged to use some of this to deliver the transport recommendations around the audited schools, which will also support the Healthy Streets approach. The Mayor has also developed a toolkit to help boroughs apply the audits approach to other schools located in areas exceeding legal pollution limits.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Air pollution is a national health crisis that is putting the health of children at risk. As Mayor, I’ve moved fast in London to implement the most ambitious plans to tackle air pollution of any major city in the world. This includes cleaning up our bus and taxi fleets, bringing forward the introduction of the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone and introducing the Toxicity Charge – T-Charge – for the oldest polluting vehicles in central London.
Glenn Higgs, associate director at WSP, said: “We are delighted to have worked with the GLA, school communities and boroughs to develop recommendations which will make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of children at 50 primary schools by helping to tackle their air quality issues. This audit process takes a truly multidisciplinary approach, with input from WSP’s air quality, transport, buildings and energy specialists, and can now be rolled out for other schools in London which are most affected by air pollution.”
Westminster City Council Leader, Cllr Nickie Aiken, said: “We welcome The Mayor’s efforts to improve air quality across London - his support and funding will help us to reduce pollution around our schools.
“With over one million daily visitors Westminster suffers some of the worst pollution and air quality is the number one concern for our residents. To demonstrate our commitment to improving air quality we are pleased to announce that we will match fund the Mayor’s scheme for schools in our borough.
“Air quality is a national issue and there are no miracle cures but by working together we can make a big difference locally.”


The Mayor of London has now launched a programme of air quality audits at nurseries in some of the most polluted parts of London.
The audits will target sources of indoor and outdoor pollution, with five of the 20 nurseries trialling new air filtration systems to test their effectiveness at reducing indoor pollution. They will focus on reducing NO2, PM10 and PM 2.5 as research shows children exposed to these smaller pollution particles and gases are more likely to grow up with lung problems and to develop asthma.    
The audits will also review a range of methods to reduce pollution outside nurseries, including restricting road access outside entrances at drop off and collection times, moving playgrounds away from congested roads, installing green ‘pollution barrier’ hedges, tackling engine idling and promoting cycling and walking.  
The £250,000 programme is funded as part of the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund and audits will be conducted by WSP, who will spend the next few weeks in the nurseries, assessing indoor and outdoor air pollution sources, looking at how children travel to the nurseries, and reviewing local walking routes including traffic crossings. These will be the first City Hall trials of indoor filtration, beginning in spring 2019, with results expected later in the year, alongside a toolkit that can be given to all non-participating nurseries so they can conduct their own audits.
Built into the programme is a ring-fenced starter grant of £4,500 for the 20 nurseries to help kick-start recommendations on completion of the audits.


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