Three million children in England 'go to school in toxic air areas'

More than three MILLION children in England attend schools in areas with toxic air pollution – while 99% of Londoners live on streets with dangerous air quality, study warns

  • Study warns three million children in England go to school in areas with toxic air 
  • It also found 99 per cent of Londoners live on streets with dangerous air quality
  • Analysis by mayor of London’s office said children in city four times as likely to attend school in area with toxic levels of air pollution as those in rest of England

More than three million children in England attend schools in areas with toxic air pollution, a new study has warned, while 99 per cent of Londoners live on streets with dangerous air quality.

The analysis also found that children in the capital are four times more likely to go to school in areas with pollution levels that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) limits than youngsters in the rest of England.

Studies have previously found that poor air quality stunts the growth of children’s lungs and worsens chronic illnesses, such as asthma, lung and heart disease.

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Concerning: More than three million children in England attend schools in areas with toxic air pollution, a new study has warned (stock image)

Air pollution increases the risk of several conditions, such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes

WHAT IS PARTICULATE MATTER (PM)? 

Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air. 

Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye. 

Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.

Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).

Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.

Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.

Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads.

The new analysis, carried out by the mayor of London’s office, found that 3.1 million English children are attending schools in areas exceeding WHO limits for PM2.5.

PM2.5 is a form of particulate air pollution considered to be particularly dangerous because the particles are small enough to transfer from the lungs into the bloodstream and affect many other parts of the body.

It is mostly produced by vehicles and industry, burning coal, wood stoves, forest fires, smokestacks and other human processes that involve burning. 

A landmark study of the impact of London’s air pollution found children growing up in polluted parts of the capital had significantly smaller lung volume than their peers in the rest of England.

Children in the most polluted areas had on average 5 per cent less lung capacity, according to researchers from three universities who monitored pupils from 28 schools.  

Research also showed that those exposed to the worst air pollution are more likely to be deprived Londoners and from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. 

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: ‘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.

‘I want to make sure all of London meets the World Health Organization limits for particulate matter. But I can’t do it alone and I want to work with Government to achieve this goal.’

He added: ‘We can’t sleep walk from the health crisis of Covid back into complacency over the major impact of toxic air on everyone’s health.’

Harriet Edwards, senior policy manager for air quality at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘Each year, the capital’s poor air quality contributes to around 1,000 emergency hospital admissions for children with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

‘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.’  

In June it was revealed that tougher air pollution laws will be brought in after the death of a girl from an asthma attack caused by traffic fumes – but they won’t take effect until next year at the earliest.

Last year a coroner ruled that air pollution contributed to the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah (pictured), nine, who lived 80ft from the South Circular road in Lewisham, south-east London

A Southwark coroner ruled in December that air pollution – including illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide – contributed to the 2013 death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, nine, who lived 80ft from the South Circular road in Lewisham, south-east London.

As part of the ruling, he asked the Government to explain how it would prevent future deaths – leading to the pledge from ministers to set aside an extra £6million for local authorities to improve air quality and raise public awareness.

The coroner’s report, following a second inquest which ruled that air pollution contributed to Ella’s death, called for legally binding goals for dangerous pollutant particulate matter (PM2.5) that are in line with WHO guidelines. 

These suggest keeping an average concentration of PM2.5 under 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air (µg/m3), to prevent increased deaths. 

Coroner who ruled asthmatic nine-year-old girl was killed by toxic air urges government to set legally-binding pollution targets 

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah’s daughter Ella died after suffering three years of seizures

In June it was revealed that tougher air pollution laws would be brought in following the death of a girl from an asthma attack caused by traffic fumes.

A Southwark coroner ruled in December 2020 that air pollution – including illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide – contributed to the 2013 death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who lived 80ft from the South Circular road in Lewisham, south-east London.  

The nine-year-old died after suffering three years of seizures and nearly 30 visits to hospital for treatment to breathing problems.

The council admitted pollution levels were a ‘public health emergency’ at the time of the schoolgirl’s death but it failed to act on it. 

Coroner Philip Barlow said Ella’s mother, Rosamund, had not been given information which could have led to her take steps which might have prevented her daughter’s death.  

On April 21, Mr Barlow said legally binding targets for particulate matter in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK and urged the Government to take action.

The WHO guidelines suggest keeping an average concentration of PM2.5 under 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air (µg/m3), to prevent increased deaths.

The UK limit, based on European Union (EU) recommendations, is a yearly average of 25 µg/m3.

Ella’s bereft mother, who spent more than five years campaigning for justice, said she would have moved home if she had known polluted air was killing her daughter. 

She said: ‘Because of a lack of information I did not take the steps to reduce Ella’s exposure to air pollution that might have saved her life. 

‘I will always live with this regret. 

‘People are dying from air pollution each year. Action needs to be taken now or more people will simply continue to die.’

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