London nurseries to trial air filtration systems

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Nurseries in the most polluted parts of the capital will test new air filtration systems in audits designed to cut children's exposure to toxic air.

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Earlier this year the Mayor announced that 20 nurseries would receive  air quality audits and City Hall has now released the names of those taking part in the programme.

The 20 maintained nursery schools and children’s centres were selected in agreement with their local authority, based on assessments of the current annual average levels of nitrogen dioxide near the nursery. 

They are spread across 12 boroughs in the capital and include the Thomas Coram Centre in Camden, Rachel McMillan Nursery School and Children’s Centre, Greenwich, and the Triangle Nursery School in Lambeth.

Five of the nurseries will trial new indoor air quality filtration systems in the spring to test their effectiveness at reducing indoor air pollution.

These will be the first City Hall trials of indoor filtration with results expected later next year, alongside a toolkit that can be given to all non-participating nurseries so that they can conduct their own audits.

Each of the 20 nurseries will receive a grant of £4,500 to help them implement recommendations following their audits.

The £250,000 programme is funded as part of the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund. Audits will be undertaken by global engineering consultancy WSP, who will spend the next few weeks in the nurseries assessing indoor and outdoor air pollution sources, looking at how children travel to nursery, and reviewing local walking routes, including traffic crossings.

The audits will focus on cutting NO2, PM10 and PM 2.5, as research shows that children exposed to these smaller particles and gases are more likely to grow up with lung problems and develop asthma.

They will review a range of methods to cut pollution outside nurseries, including:

  • reducing road access outside entrances at drop-off and collection times
  • moving playgrounds away from congested roads
  • installing green ‘pollution barrier’ hedges
  • tackling engine-idling
  • promoting cycling and walking

The new scheme follows similar audits of 50 primary schools earlier this year, which have led to some schools closing roads, upgrading their boilers, tackling engine idling and promoting car-sharing schemes.

A study by University College London and Cambridge University earlier this year, funded by the Mayor, found that indoor air pollution was significantly higher in classrooms than outside, due to factors such as the age of school buildings, ventilation, carpets, and positioning of windows.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said, ‘It remains a shameful fact that London's toxic air health crisis is harming the lung growth and respiratory health of our young children, and City Hall is determined to everything in our power to protect them.

‘These nursery audits focus on indoor pollution as well as outdoor sources, and will help us understand ways we can stop toxic air from our congested roads raising pollution limits inside nurseries.  

‘The 50 school audits we delivered are already resulting in positive changes that are helping reduce pollution and clean the air for thousands of pupils.’

He added that he was prioritising the health of all Londoners with measures including the introduction next April of the 24-hour Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone, cleaning up the bus fleet and working with boroughs on local interventions.

‘Now it is high time the Government stepped up and matched my ambition by delivering a new Clean Air and Environment Act and introducing the scrappage scheme we need to remove the dirtiest vehicles off our streets once and for all,’ he said.

Dr Simon Lenton, representative of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which is backing the programme, said, ‘The adverse impact on health of air pollution is now well established in adults. Infants and children are more vulnerable as their lungs and brains are still developing. Children and infants spend many hours in nursery or at school and it is imperative we know what air pollutants they are exposed to and then take action to ensure the air they breathe is as pure as possible. This is particularly important in proximity to high traffic density and close to industrial areas.’

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