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‘Living walls’ should be installed to help most polluted schools, campaigners say

London schools attempting to raise funds for measures to protect children from toxic air pollution

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Corespondent
Sunday 11 November 2018 13:12 GMT
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New ultra-low emission zone in London to be 18 times larger than initially planned, Sadiq Khan announces

Schools in polluted areas should have “living walls” installed to protect children from toxic substances in the air, campaigners have claimed.

Covering walls with plants could prove an effective strategy as they are able to absorb dangerous pollutants from the air, they said.

Two neighbouring west London schools are trying to raise thousands of pounds to help pay for these structures, hoping to protect their children from health problems linked with pollution.

It comes after reports of state school parents crowdfunding for air purifiers to alleviate the dangerous levels of air pollution found throughout London.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to tackle pollution in the capital, but Laurie Laybourn-Langton, from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, said more needs to be done to clean up the air.

"It's important that individuals, as well as the communities, businesses and schools in which they live and work, take measures to understand how air pollution impacts them and act to reduce their exposure, lowering the chance of harm,” he told Sky News. "For schools, measures like living walls can help to improve the quality of air children breathe and therefore improve their health and well-being, enhance the look and feel of their environment and also educate them about air pollution and climate change.

"However the responsibility of cleaning up our air lies with the government, which has the power, resources and duty to respond. Primarily, this requires the government to introduce new laws."

Andrea Carnevali, a parent at St Mary's Catholic School in Chiswick, set up the crowdfunding campaign in an attempt to raise money for both a living wall and air filters.

"We know that this is one of the top 50 schools in London and one of the most polluted schools in the country,” he said.

He added that Mr Khan had pledged to contribute £32,000 if the community can raise the rest of the costs.

The mayor has promised to make air pollution a top priority, particularly in London’s schools.

In June he announced a major new study to test the impact the newly introduced ultra-low emission zone – which aims to keep high-polluting vehicles away from the city – will have on children’s respiratory health.

Headteacher Joan Hart said she had cut outdoor playtime to a minimum after learning about the dangerous levels of pollution in the school’s area, and called for a nationwide programme to tackle the issue.

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"Obviously that needs large amounts of funding. We can't do this on our own – we are a small closed community but we are working with our neighbours... and obviously the mayor of London's office as well,” she said.

In recent years, environmental lawyers ClientEarth have won legal challenges against the government three times due to their inadequate efforts to tackle illegal levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs said they had introduced a £3.5bn plan to reduce harmful emissions and published an “ambitious” Clean Air Strategy, but “realise more needs to be done”.

They added: "We are also supporting local communities to deal with this issue through our Air Quality Grant Scheme, which funds projects to tackle air pollution and reduce emissions affecting schools, businesses and residents."

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