3.1 million children in England going to school with polluted air, new analysis shows

More than one million of these are in London, research from City Hall finds

Zoe Tidman
Monday 16 August 2021 00:26
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<p>Millions of children in England attend schools where air pollution levels are high</p>

Millions of children in England attend schools where air pollution levels are high

More than 3.1 million pupils in England are going to school in areas where the air is polluted, according to new analysis.

Children in London are four times more likely to go to a school where air pollution levels exceed global limits compared to those in the rest of the country, the research found.

The vast majority – 98 per cent – of the capital’s schools are in areas where air pollution is above the WHO threshold for particulate matter (PM2.5), compared to just under a quarter of schools across the rest of the country.

​​PM2.5 pollution – tiny particles more than 100 times thinner than a human hair – has been linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer, according to the WHO. The UK’s legal limit for this pollutant is currently two and a half times higher than the WHO’s limit of 10ug/m3.

Out of the millions of children in England whose schools are in areas exceeding this WHO limit, an estimated 1.2 million are in London, of which 700,000 are primary school pupils, according to the City Hall analysis of government data from 2019.

On average, PM2.5 levels are a third higher in schools in London compared to the rest of England. London boroughs also made up the majority of the 30 local authorities with the highest PM2.5 levels recorded around schools, with only two outside the capital.

“Children should feel safe when they are at school, but instead they are being exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution, which could be damaging their lungs and future prospects,” said Harriet Edwards of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.

“For the tens of thousands of children living with existing lung conditions, breathing dirty air could trigger a life-threatening asthma attack or exacerbation.”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said it has been accepted “for too long” that children in London will breath more polluted air than those who live outside the capital. “But I don’t accept this,” he added.

“I’m doing everything in my power to stop young Londoners breathing air so filthy that it damages their lungs and causes thousands of premature deaths every year. This is why I’m expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone later this year.”

Earlier this year, the environmental charity Global Action Plan found more than 7,800 out of 29,000 schools studied in the UK were based in areas where PM2.5 levels were above the WHO’s air pollution guidelines.

Public Health England (PHE) has said air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, estimating around 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year can be attributed to long-term exposure.

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah – who died aged nine following a severe asthma attack in 2013 – became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death at an inquest last December.

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