Campaigners call for Government to do more to tackle air pollution around nurseries and schools

Annette Rawstrone
Thursday, June 17, 2021

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of UK schools  - including nursery, primary, secondary and sixth forms - are in areas above World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits, research launched for today’s Clean Air Day 2021 (Thursday) has found.

Nearly 8,000 schools and nurseries in the UK are in areas above the WHO PM2.5 limit of 10ug/m3, nearly all of them in England
Nearly 8,000 schools and nurseries in the UK are in areas above the WHO PM2.5 limit of 10ug/m3, nearly all of them in England

An estimated 139,000 nursery children are estimated to be impacted by high air pollution, out of a total of 3.4m affected children, according to the data collected for the charity Global Action Plan by EarthSense.

This year’s Clean Air Day on 17 June, organised by Global Action Plan, is themed to ‘protect our children’s health from air pollution’. As children return to more freedom following the pandemic, the campaign is calling for an environment where children can play and learn without the damaging effects of air pollution.

The charity reviewed the air quality outside schools because children are particularly vulnerable to its impacts and spend a significant amount of time at school. Starting in the womb, toxic air can harm children’s health, causing or triggering asthma, damaging lung development and even affect their ability to learn. 

The data measures concentrations of PM2.5 (Particulate Matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less). PM2.5 is formed of tiny particles that can cross from the lungs into the blood and then move around the body causing conditions such as heart and lung disease.

The WHO Air Quality Guidelines (AQG) offer global guidance on thresholds and limits for key air pollutants that pose health risks. Of the 7,852 schools above the WHO PM2.5 limit of 10ug/m3, including nursery, primary, secondary and sixth forms, 98 per cent (7,692) are in England.

Commenting on the research, director at WHO Dr Maria Neira, said, ‘These figures are unequivocally too high and harming children’s health. Schools should be safe places of learning, not places where students are at risk of health hazards. There is no safe level of air pollution, and if we care about our children and their future, air pollution limits should reflect WHO guidelines.’

Larissa Lockwood, director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan, called the finding ‘extremely alarming’.

She added, ‘Air pollution is not a fact of life. If we all do our bit, it can be solved with collaborative action and education. 

‘We have seen the power of Clean Air Day to unite a movement, to bring confidence to talk about the importance of tackling air pollution even in trying times, and to push for change, but it can’t stop there.

'Tools like the Clean Air for Schools Framework are available for free to help any school set up a clean air action plan, but schools cannot do this alone. If we all come together - individuals, schools, businesses, local authorities across the UK to collectively act and seize this moment we can create and support change, for good.’

A free online tool ‘The Clean Air Schools Framework’ has been launched to give education professionals, parents and local authorities a bespoke blueprint for tackling air pollution in and around schools. https://www.transform-our-world.org/programmes/clean-air-for-schools

A Defra spokesperson said, 'Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010. Emissions of fine particulate matter have fallen by 11 per cent while emissions of nitrogen oxides are at their lowest level since records began. However, we know there is more to do.

'We are continuing to deliver a £3.8 billion plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 pollution and are going further with new targets to protect communities from air pollution, particularly PM2.5 which is especially harmful to human health.'

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