On Thursday Sadiq Khan announced a new £1m fund to help protect children at schools and nurseries in the most polluted parts of London from toxic air.
The mayor’s first report into indoor air pollution in schools reveals that pollution is higher inside classrooms than outside.
The report by University College London and the University of Cambridge assessed indoor air quality at five London primary schools and one nursery. The schools studied were a nursery and primary school in a modern building in the suburbs away from busy traffic, an urban Victorian school next to a high traffic street, two urban Victorian schools away from high traffic streets, and a suburban modern school close to a major street.
The report found differences in pollution levels between classrooms depending on a range of factors, including building characteristics, design and maintenance.
A significant proportion of indoor air pollution is due to outdoor air pollution, which can contribute to illegally high levels of indoor pollution in some school buildings.
Under a plan announced last year, detailed air quality audits have been carried out in 50 schools in 23 London boroughs, which will each receive £10,000 to help them make changes to cut pollution.
The mayor is investing £250,000 to pilot a new nursery audit programme that will trial filtration systems to reduce indoor air pollution at 20 of the most polluted nurseries in the most polluted areas. The nurseries that will receive support have not yet been chosen but they will be selected using the same criteria as the schools. More information on the pilot is expected soon.
A further £300,000 fund will deliver green infrastructure at any London school located in an area exceeding legal pollution limits (from the Greener City Fund).
The report found that for NO2, which was strongly related to the risk of asthma attacks and asthmatic symptoms, outdoor sources accounted for 84 per cent of the variation between classrooms, highlighting the importance of tackling emissions from road traffic and preventing it from entering the building. To fight this the mayor has introduced measures to cut traffic emissions including the T-Charge in central London for the oldest, more polluting vehicles and bringing forward the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to April 2019.
The findings suggested that the protection offered by a building increased the further away it was from the busiest roads and that airtight buildings may offer greater protection. The report also found that in most classrooms annual exposure to fine particulate pollution was higher than recommended World Health Organisation guidelines, although this was caused by a combination of indoor and outdoor sources.
The report makes a number of recommendations to protect pupils, including 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.
School air quality audits
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 pupils travel to school, and reviewing local walking routes, including traffic crossings.
Each audit provides a detailed report tailored to each school, but also contains a tool kit and template that could be used locally by other schools and similar organisations to undertake their own air quality audit.
The mayor, who this morning visited St Mary’s Bryanston Square Primary School, near the busy Marylebone Road, one of the audited schools, said, ‘I’m doing everything in my power to protect children in London from air pollution. Our air quality audits set out to reduce pollution in and around school premises.
‘City Hall are also offering funding to the 50 audited schools - as well as other schools and nurseries located in high-pollution areas - to help them make immediate changes.
‘Air pollution is a national health crisis that is putting the health of children at risk. As mayor, I’ve moved fast in London to implement the most ambitious plans to tackle air pollution of any major city in the world.'
He said this included cleaning up bus and taxi fleets, bringing forward the introduction of the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone and introducing the Toxicity Charge – T-Charge – for the oldest polluting vehicles in central London.
Mr Khan urged the Government to 'step up and act with more urgency if we are going to tackle London’s filthy air once and for all.’
St Mary’s Bryanston Square Primary School, Westminster
Sadiq Khan visiting St Mary’s Bryanston Square Primary School on Thursday
Improvements following the school’s air quality audit include:
- installing and testing a new filtration system to cut pollution inside the school with £20,000 in new funding from the mayor and Westminster Council.
- From this 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.
- Turning the staff car park into a garden. The school is encouraging all staff and pupils to walk, cycle or use public transport.
- The school is working with British Land to install a ‘green wall’ – a variety of plants across a playground wall - to screen children playing outside from nearby traffic pollution.
- Pupils are 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, said air quality was a big concern.
‘Our children are extremely aware of the dangers, both for their own health and for the community at large,' she said.
'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.’