Changes to school buildings and journeys help pupils breathe easier

13 June 2019, Katie Coyne

Children at Londship Lane Primary School, featured in a Dispatches programme. Credit: Channel 4

Hedges planted around schools and specialist mesh on windows – plus an air purification system – have significantly reduced air pollution at one London primary school.

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme teamed up with King’s College London to measure the levels of air pollutants that schoolchildren in London are exposed to.

Fifty children at Lordship Lane Primary School in Haringey, North London, were given special backpacks for a week to monitor air pollution on their journeys to and from school and throughout the day. Researchers took 70 million measurements of the air the pupils were breathing.

After the school made ‘greening’ changes, and after children were advised to change their journeys (such as walking through the park instead of along a road), the team found that the children’s exposure to nitrogen dioxide on the school commute dropped from 61.1 μg/m3 to 54.8 μg/m3.

The classroom indoor levels of pollution dropped by a quarter.

Overall, across the group, the team reduced nitrogen dioxide exposure by 20% – and for one child by 67%. The changes to the school cost in the region of £30,000.

The pupils’ biggest exposure to air pollution was during their commute. Exposure to particulate matter on the school run was worst for those travelling by car – children were exposed to 30% more pollution than if they were walking. On the bus, the figure was 28.5% higher than when walking.

Ben Barratt from King’s College London said: “It’s really encouraging and day on day this school hopefully will continue to have better air quality and all of the future children will benefit from that.”

However, the King’s College team also revealed new evidence that microplastics are being inhaled from exhausts, brake dust and metallised rubber from car tyres. There are no regulations for brake or tyre emissions.

Professor Frank Kelly, also from King’s College, said: “We know that some of the components from brake wear, together with microplastics from tyres, will be irritating and causing reactions in the lung, which over time would not be good for our health. We have not known about this issue. This is this is a new finding.”

The Dispatches programme, Britain's Toxic Air Scandal, revealed that one in three children in the UK is growing up breathing unsafe levels of air pollution. EU rules on air quality levels have been breached by the UK Government for nine years, for which has been taken to court three times. These toxic levels of pollution are likely to continue for another decade, the programme said.

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