London schoolchildren at risk from pollution which exceeds WHO limits

London schoolchildren at risk from pollution which exceeds WHO limits

Analysis from London’s City Hall reveals that children in the UK capital are four times more likely to go to school in areas with high levels of pollution that exceeds the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) limits than children in the rest of England.


There are two main air pollutants of concern in London, based on their impact on human health: nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5).


The analysis also reveals 3.1 million English children are attending schools in areas exceeding WHO limits for PM2.5.


Impact of pollutants


Mayor Sadiq Khan’s strategies and actions to improve air quality have led to a substantial reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding legal limits for NO2 and significant reductions in the levels of PM2.5. Tens of thousands of Londoners still breathe polluted air, however, and 99 per cent of Londoners live in areas exceeding the WHO recommended guidelines for PM2.5, which are stricter than the legal standards.


This analysis of the national government data for annual average PM2.5 in 2019 also shows that, before the pandemic:

  • more than 1.2 million children in London attended schools in areas that exceeded WHO limits for PM2.5 – more than 700,000 of them are of primary school age
  • 98 per cent of state primary and secondary schools in London were in areas that exceeded WHO limits, compared with 24 per cent outside of London
  • on average, PM2.5 concentrations were a third (33 per cent) higher at schools in London than in the rest of England
  • of the 30 local authorities with the highest PM2.5 at schools, all but two were London boroughs
  • the average concentration around schools in London (12 µgm-3) is more than double the average concentration in Cumbria (5.2 µgm-3), the local authority with schools in the areas with the lowest concentrations of toxic air.

A study of the impact of London’s air pollution found children growing up in polluted parts of the capital showed significantly smaller lung volume, with a loss of approximately five per cent in lung capacity – equivalent to two large eggs – compared to their peers in the rest of England.

“For too long it has been accepted that children growing up in London will breathe more polluted air than their friends and family outside this great city”

The research by King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London and the University of Edinburgh monitored children from 28 schools in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Greenwich and the City of London which failed to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits. Another study by Imperial College, commissioned by City Hall, found that the mayor’s air quality policies and wider improvements in air pollution will increase the average life expectancy of a child born in London in 2013 by six months.

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