Air pollution: A low parent priority, despite latest evidence

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

There are more than 2,000 schools and nurseries situated close to roads with illegal levels of air pollution in England and Wales. However, survey data from Friends of the Earth shows that pollution is not high on parents’ list of priorities when choosing a school.

A survey of 1,020 parents of school-aged children (4 to 16) found that only 10 per cent are worried about their children breathing dirty air while at school or on their way to and from school.

While this figure does rise to 28 per cent in London, the survey found that bullying and their children making friends were parents’ top priorities.

Air pollution is becoming an increasingly high-profile issue for schools after research last year revealed that 2,091 schools, nurseries, further education centres and after-school clubs are situated within 150 metres of a road with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution from diesel traffic.

A previous survey by walking and cycling charity Sustrans have found that 43 per cent of students are worried about the levels of air pollution near their schools – rising to 53 per cent in London.

Furthermore, research commissioned by environment and road safety charity the FIA Foundation found that air pollution is more likely to affect disadvantaged children as they are more likely to be walking to school.

According to the FIA report, one in five of London’s state schools is in an area of poor air quality. However, children at these schools are more likely to walk to school and less likely to be driven, meaning they contribute the least to the poor-quality air they have to breathe.

The study found that more than 85 per cent of the schools most affected by poor air quality have pupils from more deprived catchment areas than the London average.
And a study commissioned by the Mayor of London earlier this year reported that air pollution caused by traffic emissions is worse inside the city’s primary school classrooms than outside. The study sparked the launch of a £1 million fund to help schools make improvements such as improving ventilation, installing hedges to trap pollution and stopping engine idling outside schools.

The 2,091 figure comes from a 2017 investigation by The Guardian and Greenpeace, which found that the highest pollution pocket of 118.19 micrograms per cubic metre of air was at a nursery in Tower Hamlets, east London. The legal limit for diesel pollution is 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air.

The research also found that five of the 10 areas with the worst exposed nurseries outside London were in the West Midlands and that other towns with schools in illegal pollution areas included Plymouth, Poole and Hull.

Friends of the Earth has just launched the latest edition of its Clean Air Schools pack (aimed predominantly at key stage 2), which equips schools with air quality monitoring tubes that test Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels and encourages pupils to campaign for clean air.

The charity, meanwhile, is lobbying government for a range of measures, including Clean Air Zones around schools.

Muna Suleiman, clean air campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “It is children who suffer the most from dirty air, which can lead to higher numbers of childhood asthma cases and even children growing up with smaller lungs. We’re inviting schools everywhere to join us in the fight against air pollution.”

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