Five times more air pollution on school run in London

A new study has revealed that pupils travelling to primary schools across the capital are five times more exposed to air pollution than at any other time of the day.

The King’s College London study, funded by the Mayor of London, saw 250 students carry special backpacks with state-of-the-art Dyson air quality sensors on their journey to and from school, measuring fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels, for a week.

According to the study, pupils were exposed to on average five-times-higher concentrations of harmful NO2 pollution on the school run than when they were at school, with PM2.5­ concentrations also deemed as higher during the journey to school, though the difference was less pronounced.

Furthermore, children who walked to school by backstreets were exposed to the lowest levels of pollution with the highest concentrations were recorded by children walking along main roads. Pollution levels were higher in cars and buses than on back streets, and parents who drive to school can contribute to high levels of air pollution on back streets as they tend to use these roads for school runs while leaving their car engines idling.

Dr Ben Barratt from King’s College London said: “The aim of our study was to use personal sensors to highlight children’s exposure to air pollution around their schools. We are delighted to see that, as a result of taking part in the study, so many children and parents found cleaner, healthier ways to travel to and from school.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan added: “Air pollution is a public health crisis and it is shocking that pupils are exposed to such high levels of harmful air. All the schools who took part in this study are using the results to educate pupils and their families on air quality and helping them find the least polluting routes for their journeys.  We have also provided air quality audits and funding at each school to help deliver urgent pollution reduction measures from installing green ‘barrier’ walls around playgrounds, to working with boroughs on car restrictions around main entrances. I remain committed to doing everything in my power to ensure London children can breathe clean air.”

The backpack study is part of the Mayor’s wider support for the Breathe London Network which uses a range of cutting-edge equipment including Google Street View cars kitted out with air quality sensors that take pollution readings approximately every 30 metres at tens of thousands of locations while they travel through London’s streets.