The joint investigation by Greenpeace’s Energydesk and The Guardian newspaper reveals that at least 2,092 education and childcare providers across England and Wales are within 150m of a road where the level of nitrogen dioxide from diesel traffic exceeds the legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air. Of these, 1,013 are nurseries, many of which are in towns and cities outside London.
Greenpeace’s Energy desk mapped the locations of schools, colleges and Ofsted-registered childcare providers against the latest available Government estimates for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels on the major roads network.
The figures, which do not include private nurseries in Wales, have been released weeks ahead of the Government's legally mandated deadine to produce new plans for tackling the UK's dangerously poor air quality, after its existing strategy was found to be inadequate and 'overly optimistic'.
The research shows that the issue is most acute in London, with over 1,500 education or childcare providers near an illegally polluted road – more than 750 are nurseries.
Of the London boroughs, 15 had at least a quarter of nurseries in an illegal NO2 hotspot.
The highest pollution pocket, where pollution levels of more than four times the legal limit were recorded, is at a nursery in Tower Hamlets, east London.
However, there are also high levels of pollution outside London. Five of the ten areas with the worst exposed nurseries outside the capital are in the West Midlands. Plymouth, Poole in Dorset, and Hull, all had nurseries and schools in areas with above the legal NO2 limits.
According to the research, Busy Bees Childcare is one of several nursery groups that has more than one site close to a breaching road.
Its managing director Marg Randles said, ‘We place a very high value on health and well-being and air quality is a concern for many communities in the UK.
'Undoubtedly the levels of pollution across many parts of the country have reached unacceptable levels and we understand that everyone is affected by high levels of nitrogen dioxide. Reducing the levels of pollution especially around homes, schools, hospitals and nurseries where levels are high is hugely important and the Government has been very clear that it is firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions and we support that commitment.'
Anna Jones, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said, 'Most people don’t realise that all across the country toddlers are being exposed to invisible air pollution caused by diesel vehicles.
'We were told diesel vehicles were the cleaner choice but carmakers lied about the toxic pollution they emit. The only way to make our communities safer is to tackle air pollution head on. To fix this problem we need wholesale transformation on our roads away from diesel towards hybrid and electric vehicles. Both the Government and the car companies need to work urgently to fix this.'
A Government spokesperson said, 'We are firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions.
'That's why we have committed more than £2 billion since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles, support greener transport schemes and set out how we will improve air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones. In addition, in the Autumn Statement, we announced a further £290m to support electric vehicles, low emission buses and taxis, and alternative fuels.
'We will update our air quality plans shortly to further improve the nation’s air quality.'