Children in London schools are being exposed to higher levels of damaging air pollution inside the classroom than outside, putting them at risk of lifelong health problems, a new study has revealed.
Scientists studied five primary schools and one nursery in the capital as part of research into levels of air pollution indoors. The research shows that outdoor air pollution from diesel vehicles and other sources – both of nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution – is affecting the lives of children inside schools.
Young children – who are more vulnerable to airborne pollutants than adults – are breathing in fine particle pollution (PM10 and the even smaller PM2.5) at levels which are higher than the annual World Health Organisation guidelines of 20μg/m3 and 10μg/m3 respectively, the report said. Particulate pollution is primarily a product of diesel vehicles, tyre and brake dust, and solid fuel-burning, but can also come from inside a building itself.
In the case of PM10, children are being exposed to higher levels inside their lessons than outside on the street or in the playground, the report found.
The study, which was commissioned by the mayor of London and carried out by the Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering at University College London and the University of Cambridge chemistry department, examined five primaries and one nursery.
The report said a significant level of air pollution indoors in urban areas was due to outdoor pollution penetrating the buildings.
“Children living or attending schools nearer high-traffic density roads were exposed to higher levels of motor vehicle exhaust gases and had higher incidence and prevalence of childhood asthma and wheeze,” it said. “A higher incidence of childhood asthma was positively associated with exposure to nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to particulate matter was also associated with a higher incidence of wheeze in children.”
The study does not call for classrooms to be sealed off from outside air pollution as the issue is complex, and some studies indicate cognitive performance of children in classrooms is improved at lower temperatures with more ventilation.
The schools studied were a modern suburban nursery and primary school away from high traffic streets, a Victorian-built primary next to a busy road, two similar schools away from high traffic areas and a suburban modern school building close to a major road.
The findings came as the mayor published his first audit of air pollution at 50 of the capital’s schools and a series of measures to help them counter the impact of poor air quality around their schools.
The mayor on Thursday announced the creation of a £1m fund to help the worst-affected schools bring in changes immediately. The money will also provide 20 nurseries with air quality audits and indoor air filters.