NEARLY all children in the UK are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution outside school, an investigation by the Daily Express can reveal.
That puts at risk the health of nearly nine million vulnerable youngsters across the country – from nurseries to colleges. At least 88 per cent of schools are in areas breaching new World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for the gaseous pollutant nitrogen dioxide, figures from Global Action Plan (Gap) show.
This figure rises to 99 per cent of UK schools exceeding WHO guidelines for deadly PM2.5 particles – tiny particles from burning fossil fuels.
These tiny particles can penetrate the lungs and enter the blood system, potentially causing a decline in respiratory function, increased A&E visits and hospitalisation for lung and heart problems.
Only 13 schools in the UK – in rural Scotland – are in areas that do not exceed the WHO’s 2021 recommendations for PM2.5, analysis by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation (BLF) found.
Around 40,000 deaths in Britain each year are linked to air pollution, according to a 2016 study by the Royal College of Physicians.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma UK and the BLF, said: “Road traffic is a leading source of harmful air pollution and it’s not just a city centre problem.
“Based on the latest WHO guidelines, 99.8 per cent of all schools and colleges in the UK are in areas with unsafe levels of air pollution.”
WHO researchers recently concluded stricter limits on air pollution were necessary to protect human health.
In September its guideline limit for the most damaging pollution – PM2.5 – was halved from 10 to five micrograms per cubic metre.
Analysis by Asthma UK and the BLF found the top 10 most polluted schools for PM2.5 across the UK are all located in Hampshire, with the top six in Portsmouth and the others in Southsea.
Meanwhile, every school in England in an area classified as “mainly rural” still exceeds the
WHO’s 2021 recommendations. Larissa Lockwood, director of clean air at Gap, said: “Air pollution impacts everyone’s health and wellbeing but children are particularly vulnerable – namely because they’re smaller, breathe faster and are often closer to the source of emissions.
“As they grow, they continue to be at risk because their immune systems, lungs and brains are still developing – which research shows has the potential to cause lasting harm.