This month, the National Education Union (NEL) and the British Lung Foundation (BLF) have published useful guidance about the potential dangers of air pollution for children, particularly on the school run. They offer advice to staff, parents and pupils about minimising risks. Levels of localised air pollution across the UK are breaching acceptable levels and it’s estimated that around 40,000 early deaths per year can be linked to breathing polluted air. It can particularly affect the asthmatic, the elderly, children and babies.
The root of the problem
The air pollutants causing the most problems are nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. They are most concentrated in urban areas where traffic levels and congestion are high. Air pollution isn’t a new problem: all vehicle makers have had to meet increasingly strict European standards since the 1990s, so when we replace our car for a newer model, we invariably buy a cleaner one.
Government policy in the early 2000s aimed at solving global warming issues encouraged people to purchase diesel vehicles by offering much lower tax rates than their petrol equivalents. This was great for our wallets, fuel efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, but this policy proved ill-advised since diesel can be more polluting than petrol.
We are now seeing cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton setting up Clean Air Zones to reduce dangerous levels; clearly many schools will be in these zones.
What can we do?
Our lifestyles are so dependent on the motor car that it can leave us feeling powerless to improve air quality, but happily there are simple steps we can all take to help reduce air pollution.
The NEU/BLF guidance suggests that schools create an action plan that involves pupils, parents and teachers. We are encouraged to raise awareness and work together to improve air quality. Although parents reducing school run journeys is part of this, there are very important reasons why this isn’t always possible, such as needing to travel to schools some distance from home, or having children at more than one school.
The below tips can help you to play your part:
- Reduce car journeys Walk with the kids or taking public transport to school and extracurricular activities.
- Car share If your child lives close to a friend at the same school, why not save time and money on fuel by sharing the duty with other parents?
- Park away from the school gates If you really need the car when doing the drop off, park away from the area where children congregate to avoid making congestion and fumes worse.
- Park and Stride Living Streets suggest that when you drive, park ten minutes away from school and complete the journey on foot.
- Switch off your engine! Vehicle engines running while they are stationary increases the amount of exhaust fumes in the air. This small action makes the air much pleasanter for your kids and everyone else’s.
Read the NEU/BLG guidance for more information.
For more tips on walking to school, visit Living Streets.