Children are more exposed to dangerous air pollution on the school run and while they are out in the playground than at any other time, researchers for Unicef UK at Queen Mary University of London have found. They receive 60 per cent of their exposure to tiny particles of black carbon during the time they spend travelling to school and at school, despite only spending 40 per cent of their time there, with peaks in the exposure during travel time and break time, when they are likely to be in the playground.
Researchers also found that taking a child to school in a car rather than walking does not protect them from the pollution, as they may be exposed higher levels of pollutants inside vehicles, because emissions circulate and build up rather than dissipate.
The study saw six children in London carry personal monitors which recorded black carbon over a 24-hour period during weekdays to assess their exposure on an average school day.
Unicef UK estimates that one in three children are growing up with unsafe levels of particulate pollution.
In May, Leeds, York, Sheffield and Hull were named among the UK’s 30 cities which breach World Health Organisation limits for air pollution, highlighting the scale of the problem in the region.
Last month, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, and council leaders in Leeds and Bradford were among a group 17 local leaders to sign an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for action on “toxic air”.
Uncief UK is calling on the Government to set up ring-fenced funding to protect children from air pollution, and set out a national strategy on children and air pollution. The charity also wants to see a network of clean air zones and expand air quality monitoring to better understand children’s exposure to pollution.
Amy Gibbs, Unicef UK’s director of advocacy, said: “Every day, thousands of children across the UK are setting off on a toxic school run that could impact their lifespan and contribute to serious long-term health problems. We cannot afford to continue to overlook this invisible but serious threat.”
Meanwhile, North Yorkshire County Council is encouraging Scarborough residents to leave their cars at home at least once a week and walk, cycle or use public transport. Research for the County Council’s Open Scarborough initiative found that 55 per cent of commuters travel less than five miles a day, while one in four has an easily walkable commute of less than two miles.