Air Pollution – Invest Now to Safeguard our Children

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme this week focused on how air pollution is affecting Lordship Lane Primary School pupils in Haringey, North London. It is one of 50 schools in the most polluted urban areas of the UK.

Together with researchers from Kings College and Queen Mary University, they undertook a detailed series of tests on the pupils. They revealed some alarming results that should make us all sit up and make changes now.  

The school is close to the main road in Haringey, receiving Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) at levels 20% higher than EU safe guideline levels. PM2.5 emissions are so small that they can enter the lungs and bloodstream.

Hospitals in the worst affected urban areas across the UK are seeing increasing admissions of children for asthmatic and bronchial disorders, stunted lung growth and slower brain development.  Children with these conditions are 4 times more likely to have problems later in life.

According to the Mayor’s Office, Around 9,000 people die prematurely because of polluted air in London alone.

High Court Ruling could Force Government Action

The tragic case of Ella Kissi-Debrah could lead to the first successful recording of cause of death due to air pollution.

Ella lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, South east London. She died in 2013 after having seizures for three years.  An inquest in 2014 concluded her death was caused by acute respiratory failure and severe asthma.

But a 2018 report said it was likely that unlawful levels of pollution, detected at a monitoring station one mile from Ella’s home, contributed to her fatal asthma attack.

The High Court granted a new inquest after Ella’s mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said more evidence had come to light. If it rules that air pollution was to blame, this could ensure the Government takes action legally finally to address it.

Mrs Kissi-Debrah said that “If it is proved that pollution killed Ella then the Government will be forced to sit up and take notice that this hidden but deadly killer is cutting short our children’s lives.

Damage being Done

The Channel 4 programme set out to test just how badly air pollution was affecting the pupils at Lordship Lane.

Norice Liu, Researcher at Queen Mary University, asked the pupils to provide sputum tests to see how deep pollution was getting into their systems. Many who were tested showed black spots from deep within the mesophages (lung cells) showing this damage was already well underway.

Interviewed parents expressed well-rehearsed concerns about the impracticalities of walking to the school. They choose to drive and drop pupils off before going on the work, citing time pressures.

Professor Frank Kelly from Kings College London said tailpipe emissions including the school run add to local air pollution. But there are lesser known extra risks from tyre plastic and brake dust particles shed by vehicles.

Tyres now comprise 50% plastic and when combined with fine brake dust particles can enter the lungs in a similar way to NO2 and PM2.5

Research into these impacts are only just underway.  Ironically, these issues won’t be addressed by electric vehicles unless radical changes are made to tyres and brakes, for which there is no regulation as yet.

Ms Liu kitted out 50 of the pupils with backpacks to monitor air pollution levels through their normal daily routine in classroom, playground and on the school run.

After a week, the research term took some 70 million measurements. They captured some startling results:

  • The biggest exposure was on the school run – 53% higher than safe guidelines
  • 5 was 30% higher in a car and some 28.5% higher in a bus
  • The classroom next to the road has NO2 and PM2.5 exposure 20% higher than the rest of the school
Reducing Air Pollution Impacts

The research team then implemented a set of measures to reduce exposure to test their impact. These included:

  • Walking alternative, quieter routes to school, leaving the car at home
  • Adding an air purification system in classrooms and fitting mineral mesh to windows to filter particulates.
  • Installing screens of ivy in the playground

Air sensors were installed on the roadside near the school. They showed that while the level of roadside pollution stayed the same, the children’s exposure in school fell by 20% overall.

Green screens proved a real benefit, with a 53% reduction in exposure levels in the playground.

The Air filters and mineral mesh transformed the classroom nearest the road to the cleanest of them all.  Children walking to school on quieter roads recorded a 67% reduction in NO2 and 33% reduction in PM2.5.

A Price worth Paying?

The cost for these improvements to the school was £30,000. Two thirds of schools in urban areas with similar levels of air pollution. The challenge to Government is to invest in these measures NOW or gamble with our children’s health – at a greater future cost to the NHS.

DEFRA responded to the programme saying “We are working hard to reduce transport emissions and are already investing £3.5 billion to clean up our air. And we are taking further action through our ambitious Clean Air Strategy aiming to halve the harm to human health from air pollution in the UK by 2030.”

They are also looking at the impact of plastic pollution from cars. In 2018, they carried out a joint call for evidence with the Department for Transport on particulate emissions from brakes, tyres and road. They are now considering the evidence submitted.

Could your client be affected?

Homebuyers must understand the levels of air pollution where they plan to live. This is especially so if they have a young family or are planning to start one.

Conveyancers should view air pollution now in the same way they do flooding or contaminated land. It can and does affect your client’s peace of mind and the future property asset value.

Earthsense’s unique national MappAir data is now available in Future Climate Info’s Premium Environmental Report. It provides a vital indicator of air quality in the vicinity of the home.

For more information, contact us on 01732 755180 or email

If you missed the Channel 4 Dispatches Programme, “Britain’s Toxic Air Scandal”, you can view it here.

Headline image courtesy of Radio Times and Channel 4 Dispatches team.

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