18/05/22 – Air Pollution and Our Children

Can we afford to ignore the serious damage that is happening every day to our children’s health??

A short discussion paper Terry Gould May 2022

It is a shocking statistic that thousands of British children, including many of our youngest, are very likely being exposed to high levels of air pollution due to where their nursery or school is situated. What is being done by government to stop this happening is taking place too slowly and with insufficient impact. This is a really major safeguarding matter that needs further discussion and actions.

An article published in the Guardian over 5 years ago claimed than over 2,000 schools and nurseries were close to roads with damaging levels of diesel fumes. This was the finding of a joint investigation by The Guardian and Greenpeace. The authors claim that “The analysis of the most recent government data exposes how dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution from diesel traffic are not limited to large metropolitan centres, but threaten the health of children and young people in towns and cities from Newcastle to Plymouth.”

Published research (2017) shows that “more than 1,000 nurseries which look after 47,000 babies and children are in close proximity to roads where the level of nitrogen dioxide from diesel traffic exceeds the legal limit of 40µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre of air).”

Professor Griffiths of St Barts Hospital London (April 2017) has stated that “The research on exposure to traffic fumes and children’s lung growth is pretty consistent. It shows that such exposure reduces lung growth, produces long term ill health and can cause premature death.”

Government has set about funding cleaner air in our urban areas but so far this has had insufficient impact to stop what is happening in a suitable time scale. What is most concerning to know is the extremely high number of nurseries and schools which are situated close to major road junctions where large transport vehicles (many of which are run on diesel) are letting out emissions. The fact is that local authorities do not currently appear to be refusing such planning applications on the grounds that they are unsafe providers for children. The air quality in such a large number of settings, both outdoor and indoor, should be seriously considered to be required to be measured and published at least annually as part of safeguarding procedures.

London Manchester, Liverpool, Hull and Birmingham are just a few of the major cities where this serious risk to children’s health is taking place! It is noteworthy that “The highest pollution pocket of 118.19µg/m3 – almost three times the legal limit – was a nursery in Tower Hamlets, east London.” (April 2017) and tha “Birmingham was the worst area outside London for children’s exposure to diesel traffic fumes.”

We surely cannot afford, under our duty of care, not to hold someone to account and demand urgent action be assured.

The published scale of the exposure of young children to dangerous diesel emissions is likely to be an underestimate as it is “based on government modelling which has been criticised by judges as overly optimistic” (April 2017). Ministers need to come up with more accurate analysis and use this to formulate more legal actions. Indeed the data from 2017 is likely to have become more serious today than it was five years ago and there is need for a new government enquiry into how we are allowing our children’s health to be poisoned by the air they are breathing. In this way parents and others need to protest, locally and nationally, for change before even more children suffer as a result.

The Global Research Centre at the University of Surrey has stated what many of us might already have guessed namely that “Children are more vulnerable to exposure than adults due to their incomplete lung development, low breathing height and high physical activity and breathing rates.” However, they recognise that for accessibility reasons “many schools (and nurseries) are located near main roads, vehicular emissions from which readily infiltrate school premises, including classrooms.”

Their guidance document includes a range of measures which it suggests should be adopted including the utilisation of ‘passive’ control systems. This document could easily be used to create formal legal framework and is suggested as vital read for all concerned.


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