Almost 270 schools and nurseries in Bristol and the surrounding areas are in places where air breaches World Health Organisation limits for pollution, a charity has said.
According to data from Earthsense, a charity which is holding Clean Air Day today (Thursday) there are a total of 269 schools in the Bristol postcode area where the air quality exceeds pollution limits for poisonous chemical particles.
Earthsense said they data they collected is ‘the most comprehensive and up-to-date sample of air pollution taken from schools across the UK’, and is based on 2019 figures, before the covid pandemic.
With traffic levels already almost back to pre-covid levels, EarthSense said that, across the country, 3.4 million children are learning in ‘an unhealthy environment’.
The WHO rules cover specific levels of nitrogen dioxide particles that are tiny and known as PM2.5s. These particles cause long-term respiratory disease, heart problems and cancer, and come from burning fuels and other materials, including vehicle exhausts, solid fuel stoves, home burners, agricultural emissions and even dust from car brake pads.
The study said the total number of schools in the Bristol postcode area, which stretches from North Somerset, across Bristol and to the whole of South Gloucestershire, is 269, which also includes nursery schools. In the Bath postcode area, there are 57 schools located in places where the air quality is above WHO guidelines.
“The charity reviewed the air quality outside schools because children are particularly vulnerable to its impacts and spend a significant amount of time at school,” said a spokesperson.
“Starting in the womb, toxic air can harm children’s health, causing or triggering asthma, damaging lung development, and as revealed on Clean Air Day 2020, it can even affect their ability to learn,” she added.
The director of public health at the World Health Organisation since 2005 is Dr Maria Neira. She said the study showed pollution levels were harming children’s health.
“These figures are unequivocally too high and harming children’s health,” she said.
“Schools should be safe places of learning, not places where students are at risk of health hazards. There is no safe level of air pollution, and if we care about our children and their future, air pollution limits should reflect WHO guidelines,” she added.
Across the country, more than a quarter of schools in the UK had children breathing polluted air.
“The fact that 27 per cent of UK schools are above WHO air pollution limits is extremely alarming,” said Larissa Lockwood, director of clean air at Global Action Plan, which is organising Clean Air Day.
“Air pollution is not a fact of life. If we all do our bit, it can be solved with collaborative action and education,” she added.
Teachers and headteachers have also called for action to combat air pollution around schools.
Sarah Hannafin, the policy advisor for the National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) said adults needed to change.
“One thing the COVID-19 crisis has shown us is that we can do things differently,” she said.
“As we now begin to try and return to a more normal way of life it’s important we don’t just automatically take up old habits but try to use this opportunity to find better options, for ourselves and the planet.
“The impact of the pandemic on children has been huge; we need to do everything we can to make sure we safeguard their futures. One vital way of doing that is to ensure they return to a safe, clean and healthy environment where they can learn, play and thrive,” she added.
In Bristol, the city council is bringing in a Clean Air Zone scheme which will charge the drivers of the more polluting diesel vehicles and older petrol-powered vehicles a fixed fee for driving into or through the city centre.
There have also been, sparked by the covid pandemic and the 2020 drop in vehicles on the road, the closure of Bristol Bridge to private vehicles, and a few more cycle lanes temporarily created in busy locations like the Clifton Triangle and Lewins Mead.
The city council has also signed a ‘bus deal’ with operators First Bus to begin replacing older, diesel buses with Euro6 or biogas buses, to cut the most harmful of the diesel pollutants.
A similar Clean Air Zone scheme is already in place in Bath city centre.
It is not the first time research has concluded that a significant number of children in Bristol are going to schools where the air quality is poor.
Greenpeace tested air quality at schools around Bristol and found five schools and eight nurseries were located within 150 metres of roads where the level of nitrogen dioxide from diesel traffic exceeds the legal limit of 40.0µg/m3:
Unsurprisingly, most of these were close to the M32 in Easton or St Pauls, the A4 in Brislington and the M5 in Shirehampton.
Life at the bottom of the M32 featured as an election issue in some of the city’s most polluted wards, including Lawrence Hill and St Pauls, while the Government has recently begun tackling the growing amount of air pollution caused by log burners.
Bristol Live asked Bristol City Council about the numbers of schools in the city which have air quality which exceeds WHO pollution limits, but did not receive a response.
The 269 secondary schools, primary schools, infant schools and nurseries that were found to have levels of air quality that breached the WHO guidelines on NO2 and PM2.5 particles are as follows, broken down into Bristol postcode areas.
- BS1 (City centre) = 6 schools
- BS2 (St Pauls, St Phillips, Kingsdown) = 11
- BS3 (Bedminster, Ashton, Southville) = 12
- BS4 (Brislington, Knowle) = 20
- BS5 (Easton, Lawrence Hill, Barton Hill, St George) = 17
- BS6 (Cotham, Redland, Montpelier)= 15
- BS7 (Bishopston, Horfield, Lockleaze) = 14
- BS8 (Clifton, Hotwells, Failand) = 9
- BS9 (Stoke Bishop, Westbury-on-Trym) = 11
- BS10 (Henbury & Southmead) = 7
- BS11 (Avonmouth, Shirehampton, Lawrence Weston) = 4
- BS13 (Hartcliffe, Bishopsworth, Bedminster Down) = 12
- BS14 (Hengrove, Stockwood, Whitchurch) = 11
- BS15 (Hanham, Kingswood) = 16
- BS16 (Downend, Fishponds, Emersons Green, Staple Hill) = 35
- BS20 (Portishead) = 1
- BS23 (Weston-super-Mare) = 1
- BS30 (Longwell Green, Cadbury Heath, Warmley) = 14
- BS31 (Keynsham, Saltford) = 9
- BS32 (Almondsbury, Bradley Stoke) = 6
- BS34 (Patchway, Stoke Gifford) = 11
- BS36 (Frampton Cotterell, Winterbourne) = 7
- BS37 (Chipping Sodbury, Yate) = 4
- BS39 (Paulton, Clutton, Pensford) = 8
- BS40 (Chew Valley) = 4
- BS41 (Long Ashton, Dundry) = 3
- BS49 (Congresbury, Yatton) = 1