Many primary schools in the UK experience levels of pollution which exceed safe levels set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to a study published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, it’s possible to cut in half indoor and outdoor pollution levels by using simple and inexpensive measures.
Working in schools in the London area, a group of researchers from the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) in Surrey, UK, placed a green screen along the perimeter fence of a school, organised better systems during pick up and drop off hours and installed air purifiers in classrooms.
The results showed that air purifiers reduced levels of pollution by 57%, and the new policies for pick and drop-off reduced particle concentration by 36%. The final measure, green screens at the school boundaries, reduced dangerous particles coming from roads by 44%.
“Everybody, especially our children, deserves to live and work where the air is as clean and safe as possible. Unfortunately, the reality is far from ideal, with many of our schools unwittingly exposing children to harmful pollutants. The problem is particularly bad at schools near busy roads,” said Prashant Kumar, founding Director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) at the University of Surrey. “Our research offers hope to many who care about this issue, as the results show that taking reasonable action can make a positive difference.”
Ten million children worldwide spend 30% of their time at school, mostly indoors during classes. At the moment, 7000 UK schools don’t follow WHO air quality limits, and children are vulnerable to respiratory diseases, behavioural issues, and increased risk of cancer.
“Every child has the right to learn in an environment that keeps them safe and healthy. But, every day, children are exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution in and around schools. Our partnership with Arup, Global Action Plan, and the University of Surrey has shown there are practical ways that we can protect children in and around schools and can help guide schools to implement these solutions,” said Kate Langford, Programme Director of the Health Effects of Air pollution programme at Impact on Urban Health, funders of the research. “These measures now need to be combined with efforts from local authorities at regional and national levels to improve air quality and create healthier places for children to live, learn and play.”
“My simple plea to decision-makers in the UK is this: simple actions speak louder than words. By giving every school resources to implement one of the measures detailed in our research, they could make a world of difference to tens of thousands of children in this country,” concluded Professor Kumar.
Schools looking to implement similar changes can use a toolkit for guidance.
Abhijith, K.V., Kukadia, V., Kumar, P., 2022. Investigation of air pollution mitigation measures, ventilation, and indoor air quality at three schools in London. Atmospheric Environment 289, 119303. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2022.119303