Pollution targets breached at most new planned school sites in England – study

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The vast majority of planned new school sites in the UK exceed all globally recognised targets on toxic air pollutants, a new study claims.

Around 86 per cent of locations, say researchers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, are above World Health Organization (WHO) targets on small particulate matter (PM25, PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The research, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, showed school locations for 147 new schools to be built between 2017 and 2025 in England, including 60 primary schools, 44 secondary schools, 37 all-through schools, and 6 sixth form colleges, all exceeded at least one WHO target.

Dr Florence Tydeman, Research Associate of Statistics in Population Health at King’s, said: “Previous research reviewed the plans for 36 of these 147 available school proposals for mentions of ‘air quality’ and ‘pollution’ but none included these terms. This study reveals that new schools are being planned in areas which have high levels of pollution which may be harmful to children’s health.”

The consequences, say researchers, for health from exposure to excessive levels of air pollutants are well known, and children, whose bodies and organs are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.

The team has called for air quality assessment at all stages of planning to be mandated, and legislation and guidance to be updated as a matter of urgency. Yet there is currently no legal requirement for air pollution to be considered in planning for new schools despite children spending on an average 35 hours a week at school for half the year.

Current rules, say researchers, do not take into account how widespread poor air quality is, and instead place greater emphasis on ventilation and fresh air rather than on filtration systems.

The findings indicate that air quality around new schools is ‘alarmingly poor,’ prompting researchers to urge the Department for Education to update the guidance on new school proposals so that air quality assessment is mandatory at the proposal stage.

The Department for Education said that local outdoor air quality was ‘the responsibility of local authorities, who must take it into consideration when assessing all planning applications, including for new schools’.

“We have set out the action we are taking to continue improving air quality in our Environmental Improvement Plan 2023, including allocating over £883 million to support local authorities in reducing levels of NO2 emissions from road transport,” it added.

Author: Simon Weedy

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