Millions of British children attend schools where air pollution is worse than the World Health Organization limit, activists have said.
Analysis found that more than a quarter of schools, from nurseries to sixth-grade colleges, were in locations with high levels of small particle pollution. This means that about 3.4 million children learn in an unhealthy environment, said Global Plan of Action (Gap), the charity behind the research published on Clean air day Thursday.
Tiny particles of pollution, called PM2.5, are especially dangerous because they not only harm the lungs, but can also pass into the bloodstream and affect many other parts of the body. Developing bodies are particularly vulnerable, and dirty air has previously been linked to an increase in asthma, obesity and mental disorders in children.
“Schools should be safe places to learn, not places where students are exposed to health risks,” said Dr Maria Neira, director of the World Health Organization. “These numbers are unequivocally too high and are damaging to the health of children. There is no safe level of air pollution, and if we care about our children and their future, air pollution limits should reflect WHO guidelines. “
A second report by experts from the University of Manchester also pointed out the danger to children’s health from air pollution, which has recently been linked to increased cognitive impairment, including ADHD.
Professor Martie Van Tongeren said urgent action was needed to reduce pollution to prevent cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases in young people: “Children face a significantly higher risk of neurological impacts from air pollutants . These can be transferred into the bloodstream in the lungs and travel to other parts of the body, including the brain, or can travel directly to the brain through the olfactory nerve in the nose.
The largest number of polluted schools identified in Gap’s analysis are in the populated areas of London and the South East. But there are polluted schools across the country, with almost 300 in Manchester postcodes M1 through M9 and Portsmouth with postcodes PO1 through PO9. There are also over 200 such schools in the top nine postcodes of Leicester and Ipswich.
The analysis combined 2019 data from air quality company EarthSense with the locations of schools in England, Scotland and Wales. Air pollution has declined during Covid-19 shutdowns, but is expected largely return to previous levels.
Research found that nearly 8,000 schools are in locations above the WHO annual average limit for PM2.5 of 10 g / m3 – the legal limit in the UK is 25 μg / m3. In April, the coroner who discovered air pollution was a cause of the death of 9-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013, said the UK limit should be lowered to the level of WHO. The WHO limit was set in 2005, but could be lowered further in new guidelines expected in September, A new scientist reported Wednesday.
PM2.5 particles are produced by traffic, wood stoves and agricultural emissions. In his Clean air strategy 2019, the government said: “We will reduce PM2.5 concentrations across the UK so that the number of people living in places above the WHO guideline level is reduced by 50% by 2025. “
Gap said schools, parents and children could pressure local and national politicians to take action, as well as to walk or cycle to school where possible.
Sarah Hannafin, National Association for Head Teachers, said: “The impact of the pandemic on children has been enormous; we must do all we can to secure their future. A key way to achieve this is to ensure that they return to a safe, clean and healthy environment where they can learn, play and thrive. “
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Fine particle emissions have decreased by 11% [since 2010]. However, we know there is more to do. We continue to implement a £ 3.8bn plan to clean up transport and tackle NO2 pollution. A consultation on new targets for PM2.5 and other pollutants will be launched early next year, he said, with the aim of setting new targets in legislation by October 2022.
In September, research commissioned by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said many schools were in areas with dangerously high levels of particulate pollution.
The Guardian revealed in 2017 that thousands of schools in England and Wales were in places with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant produced by diesel vehicles. NO2 levels have been illegally high in most urban areas since 2010 and the government has lost three times in court over the adequacy of its plans to reduce pollution levels.