Over a quarter of schools are above WHO air pollution limits

New research released on Clean Air Day has found that 27 per cent of UK schools are in areas above World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution limits.

Global Action Plan revealed that 7,852 out of all 28,965 UK schools are located in areas which are above WHO air pollution limits for the pollutant PM2.5 (10ug/m3).

The data, collected by EarthSense, is the most up-to-date sample of air pollution taken from all schools across the UK and is based on data input from a 2019 annual average data set. The data measures concentrations of PM2.5, which is formed of tiny particles that can cross from the lungs into the blood and then move around the body causing conditions such as heart and lung disease.

The WHO Air Quality Guidelines (AQG) offer global guidance on thresholds and limits for key air pollutants that pose health risks. Of the 7,852 schools above the WHO PM2.5 limit of 10ug/m3, including nursery, primary, secondary and sixth forms, 98 per cent (7692) are in England.

Regionally, the East Midlands has nine per cent (668), the East of England 12 per cent (964), London 25 per cent (1,973) and the South East 28 per cent (2,181).

Conversely, the North East has only 0.1 per cent (five) and the West Midlands  one per cent (60).

Global Action Plan reviewed the air quality outside schools because children are particularly vulnerable to its impacts and spend a significant amount of time at school. Starting in the womb, toxic air can harm children’s health, causing or triggering asthma, damaging lung development, and as revealed on Clean Air Day 2020, it can even affect their ability to learn.

This year’s Clean Air Day theme 'protect our children’s health from air pollution' further highlights the urgency to safeguard our children’s health after 2020 and 2021 saw our children bear the burden of the global pandemic, compromising their freedom, education and mental well-being.

The campaign is calling for an environment where children can learn and play free from the damaging effects of air pollution using the following actions:

  • Individuals: are being asked to go polluting-vehicle free by leaving the car at home and refraining from ordering non-essential, polluting deliveries as well as supporting their local authority’s actions to tackle air pollution to protect children’s health.
  • Schools: are being asked to host assemblies to raise awareness on air pollution, to encourage parents, carers and teachers to leave the car at home and to tell their local council what they would like to see happening to tackle air pollution by writing or tweeting them to protect children’s health.
  • Businesses: are being asked to signal their commitment to cleaning up toxic air by assessing and addressing their business impact on air quality and make a public statement outlining their commitment to protect children’s health.
  • Health sector: hospitals and health professionals are being encouraged to host events and use the campaign as an opportunity to share information with patients and staff on the impact of air pollution and how to protect their health. They are also being asked to support local council’s clean air activities by writing or tweeting at them about what they want to see happening to tackle air pollution to protect children’s health.
  • Local authorities: are being asked to communicate the health risks of air pollution and how to tackle it to schools, residents, businesses and health groups with the need for action and say what they are doing to protect children’s health from air pollution.

Dr Maria Neira, director at WHO, said: “These figures are unequivocally too high and harming children’s health. Schools should be safe places of learning, not places where students are at risk of health hazards. 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.”

Larissa Lockwood, director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan, said: “The fact that 27 per cent of UK schools are above WHO air pollution limits is extremely alarming. Air pollution is not a fact of life. If we all do our bit, it can be solved with collaborative action and education. We have seen the power of Clean Air Day to unite a movement, to bring confidence to talk about the importance of tackling air pollution even in trying times, and to push for change, but it can’t stop there. Tools like the Clean Air for Schools Framework are available for free to help any school set up a clean air action plan, but schools cannot do this alone. If we all come together - individuals, schools, businesses, local authorities across the UK to collectively act and seize this moment we can create and support change, for good.”

Event Diary

This year, Total Telecom’s Connected Britain is celebrating its 10th anniversary, marking a decade of networking, innovation, and collaboration. The conference is now the UK’s largest digital economy event, set to welcome over 7,500 delegates from the telecoms industry and beyond to discuss the hottest topics at ExCel London on September 11–12. 

DTX brings together creative minds and technology practitioners with the tools needed to drive change, enhance experiences and improve efficiencies across today’s organisations.

The countdown to the Environmental Services & Solutions Expo (ESS Expo) is on! As the UK’s largest environmental gathering, ESS Expo is set to take place on 11-12 September 2024 at the NEC, Birmingham.