Five London primaries to take part in groundbreaking air quality project

Five London primaries to take part in groundbreaking air quality project

Primary school pupils in London will carry special backpacks with state-of-the-art air quality sensors on their journey to and from school to help monitor the levels of toxic air.

The scheme, launched by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, will involve 250 pupils from five London primary schools in Southwark, Richmond, Greenwich, Haringey and Hammersmith and Fulham, who will wear specially adapted backpacks to and from school for a week.

Weighing just over 1kg, the sensors fit into lightweight bags and measure particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels. The children will use the backpacks like a normal bag, allowing the monitors to record pollutant levels on each child’s journey to school and throughout the school day.

The data from this study will allow scientists from King’s College, London to analyse at which point of their journey to school (or which part of their school day) children are exposed to the most pollution. They will also be able to the compare the exposure of children who have similar journeys but take different routes and travel modes and then make recommendations of how children can reduce their exposure in future.

The wearable sensors are the latest stage of the Breathe London project to create the most comprehensive air quality monitoring network of its kind in the world. Breathe London, which includes more than 100 fixed monitors and the deployment of air quality monitoring cars on the streets of London, is being delivered by a consortium led by Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE) and mostly funded by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).

The project itself devised by City Hall and C40 Cities, a global alliance of cities committed to addressing climate change. London is a lead city, alongside Bengalaru, India. Once this approach and technology has been proven in London, the goal is to see it introduced in cities around the world.

Mayor Sadiq Khan launched the project at Haimo Primary School in Greenwich, one of five schools at which the backpacks will be used and also one of 50 schools involved in the Mayor’s air quality audits programme last year.

The school has already started implementing recommendations to improve air quality by providing Walking Route Maps and delivering energy efficiency measures to reduce the school’s air quality footprint. The Royal Borough of Greenwich has turned the road outside the school into a ‘school street’, closing it to traffic at the start and end of the day. This has led to a 35 per cent reduction in parents driving children to school, a 33 per cent increase in scooting and an 11 per cent increase in walking.

The launch of the backpack sensors comes less than three weeks before the Mayor introduces the world’s first 24 hours-a-day Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London. Drivers of the most polluting cars, vans and motorcycles will be required to pay £12.50 (£100 for busses, coaches and lorries)to enter the ULEZ, which will operate in the area currently covered by the Congestion Charge. It is predicted the ULEZ could cut harmful emissions in central London by up to 45 per cent.

Kate Barnes, Head teacher at Haimo Primary School said: “Haimo children work hard to promote and campaign for changes that support a healthy lifestyle for themselves, our community and beyond. They are aware of the dangers of air pollution and how action is needed and have successfully campaigned for Haimo Road to be closed both at the start and end of the school day. Our focus on air quality has developed their understanding of social responsibility, not only for themselves, but for future generations.

“We intend to use our grant money to implement further projects for our children to lead on. This includes creating a green space and purchasing bike sheds. Our children will develop the skills and knowledge that will provide them with opportunities throughout their lives to take on active roles and be inspired to become leaders of the future."

Dr Ben Barratt, King’s College London, said: “Air pollution has been found to restrict lung growth in children. Low lung function in childhood can persist into adulthood and is often associated with other health problems including chronic obstructive lung disease in later life.

“Analysing the impact of air pollution and providing information to our local, national and international communities is a core component of King’s civic responsibility. By monitoring the air that children breathe on the journey to and from school, we will gain a better understanding of which pollutants are the most harmful and where they are coming from, helping us to support effective improvements in public health.”

Danny Thorpe, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “I was a primary school teacher before becoming Leader of the Council, so I know how worried parents are about air quality and road safety.

“Even though most children live within walking distance of their school, the roads are still choked with cars every morning and afternoon, which is dangerous for everyone. We’ve made a start by closing the road outside this and other primary schools at pick up and drop off times, but we want to protect children from pollution along their entire route and encourage them to walk, cycle or scoot more.

“Greenwich has the largest air quality monitoring network of all the London boroughs, but it doesn’t cover all the residential streets that children use on their way to school. Getting good quality data from projects like this will help us make the case for taking even more action to reduce the number of cars on our streets and clean up our air.”

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