The harmful pollutants around schools

Public Health England's report into air quality highlights the need to reduce air pollution in the vicinity of schools. Education Business reports on the measures that can be taken to decrease children's exposure to harmful pollutants

Public Health England (PHE) has published a review of evidence on how to improve air quality, giving recommendations to local and national government on actions they can take.

Part of the review focuses on children, saying that they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, and urges for action to be taken to improve air quality in the vicinity of schools.

It recommends that no-idling zones are implemented outside schools, for it to be made easier for children to walk or cycle to school, and to increase public awareness in relation to air pollution and children.

Why are children more at risk?

Exposure to air pollution in early life can have a long-lasting effect on lung function. There is evidence that the process of normal lung function growth in children is suppressed by long-term exposure to air pollution. Throughout childhood, there is a natural development of lung function and maximising this is important, as low lung function leads to less reserve if lung disease develops.

Action in the capital

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.

Twenty-nine primary schools located next to some of London’s most polluted roads will receive a share of £400,000 for green infrastructure in playgrounds, such as pollution barriers, to reduce children’s exposure to harmful traffic emissions.

Future improvements

A report commissioned 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.
Carried out by air quality and climate change emissions consultants Aether, the report 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.

Support for banning cars from outside schools

A survey by environmental charity Sustrans has found that almost two-thirds of teachers would support banning cars from the roads outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times.

The charity polled 840 people in teaching roles across the UK. Over 40 per cent said idling car engines were a concern when it came to rising levels of air pollution near schools, while 63 per cent said their school’s location on or near a busy road was a worry.

Almost 60 per cent said a lack of alternative routes for traffic was one of the main barriers to closing roads outside schools to cars at drop-off and pick-up times.

Thirty-four per cent said encouraging more people to walk, ride a scooter or cycle would help reduce toxic fumes, with 28 per cent saying that educating the school community would also help.

Sustrans CEO Xavier Brice said: “Our survey makes it clear that teachers want urgent action to clean up toxic fumes. They see closing the roads outside their school as an effective solution but need support.”

Last year, a report by Unicef UK found children were most exposed to dangerous air pollution on the school run and while in the playground

Unicef UK’s Sophie Gallois, commented: “Every day, one in three children in the UK is breathing in harmful levels of air pollution that could damage their health and impact their future.

“Worryingly, children are most exposed to toxic air on the school run and while at school, so a ban on motor vehicles outside the schools gates has potential to make a real difference.

“Reducing children’s exposure to air pollution is not just about the school street itself, but also taking quieter routes to school, away from busy main roads.

“The government must take urgent action to tackle this growing health crisis by putting children’s health at the heart of its work on air pollution.”

School car free zones to be trialled in Glasgow

Glasgow City Council will be trialling car free zones around seven primary schools to improve road safety for children and reduce their exposure to harmful emissions.

The scheme would see temporary pedestrian areas created outside the seven schools for limited periods in the morning and afternoon.

The pilot programme follows a series of concerns such as poor and risky driving outside schools, obstructive parking that forces pupils on to the road as well as the issues created by congestion and harmful emissions.

The proposals are currently being consulted upon by the council. Views are being sought from the council's Education Services, head teachers, parent councils, community councils, elected members, Police Scotland and other members of the community.

Indicators for the success of the project will include a reduction in congestion and speed of traffic around school gates and increase in the number of children walking and cycling to school alongside a reduction in the number of car trips to school.