Poor air quality in London affects everyone. Children and people with lung conditions are particularly at risk of suffering ill health effects.
330,000 London children go to school in areas with illegal pollution levels. Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of lung cancer, impairs child lung development and increases the risk of hospitalisation among people with a pre-existing lung condition.
Our survey of 316 parents and guardians highlighted that more than 40 per cent had noticed ill effects from air pollution on their children’s health. These include: coughing, more frequent respiratory infections, sore throats and watery eyes.
We are the only UK charity fighting to help the one in five people in the UK affected by lung disease. So we’re urging the next Mayor to protect Londoners better, by taking urgent action to tackle illegally high levels of air pollution in the capital, particularly around schools.
Studies show that exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, two of the by-products of diesel combustion, can be linked to lung cancer. The majority of this pollution is produced by road traffic in urban areas.
The problem is getting worse. As traffic increases in our capital, and the population expands, new schools are being built on plots squeezed next to busy roads. Worryingly, there are no obligations to measure air quality around schools in the capital. Yes, some local authorities monitor air quality in areas that happen to include schools, but this is coincidental and far from universal. Parents are not informed of local pollution levels, nor are they included in Ofsted reports. We think this needs to change.
If pollution levels were effectively monitored, then these could be taken into account when plans were being drawn up to build new schools. If a school had to be built near a main road, then measures could be taken to ensure that pollution levels were minimised in classrooms. Children and parents deserve to be informed about the best routes they can take to school and about where air pollution is high.
We also need to see public transport cleaned up, by speeding up the introduction of cleaner buses and taxis. We welcome the planned introduction of an ‘Ultra-low emission zone’ in the capital that could significantly improve air quality. But as we’re pointing out, this needs to extend to areas of London with high health inequality such as East London, so that everyone feels the benefit.
Air pollution can be linked to at least 9,500 early deaths every year in London. Given the severity of the problem, immediate action must be taken by the city’s next Mayor to ensure that London is a place where we can all breathe clean air with healthy lungs.
Dr Penny Woods qualified as a doctor in 1987 and has an MA from Cambridge University and MBA from INSEAD.