“Local authorities are being urged to restrict traffic around schools after a study in London found “relatively high levels” of air pollution inside classrooms, posing a risk to children’s health.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) study, Healthy Air, Healthier Children, reported data from the monitoring of indoor and outdoor air pollutants at seven primary schools in Lambeth in March, April and May this year.
Results shows the presence of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) both inside classrooms and outside all the schools. NO2 is a pollutant that comes predominantly from traffic, the study said, and can lead to asthma as well as make health problems of asthmatic people worse.
As there were no indoor sources of NO2, worryingly, the pollutants inside classrooms could only have come from outdoor air pollution, the report highlighted.
While NO2 was also detected outdoors (it was measured at school entrances for one month) at all the schools, at two schools levels came close to the annual EU legal limit and World Health Organization guideline of 40µg/m3, with averages of 35µg/m3 and 36µg/m3. Although, the study noted, these levels are averages and are likely to have been higher during school hours.
In addition, the research found high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) inside classrooms well above the recommended level of 1,000 parts per million (ppm).
This indicates that there is a need for more ventilation, the report said.
“Poor ventilation inside schools may cause asthma, dizziness, inability to concentrate, headaches and irritated throat – amongst other symptoms.”
It added: “Children at school should not be exposed to these levels of air pollution as they are especially vulnerable to its negative health effects since their bodies are still developing.
HEAL has called on local authorities to widen out an initiative called School Streets, already implemented in 40 schools across the UK, where streets immediately surrounding a school are closed off to cars during the school run.
The government also needs to help local authorities fund and deliver a network of walking and cycling routes to school, it added.
Anne Stauffer, director for strategy and campaigns at HEAL, said: “In cities, emissions from cars, buses and lorries are a major contributor to poor air quality, so investments should be made into not only reducing traffic around schools, for example with a ban on engine idling or restricted school streets, but also to finance those measures that will lead to a decrease in car use overall.”