Exclusive: 60% of parents want traffic to be diverted away from schools at peak times to protect children’s health, a new study shows
Matthew TaylorMon 26 Feb 2018 11.55 GMT
The majority of UK parents back the introduction of “pollution exclusion zones” outside schools amid growing concern that illegal levels of air pollution are doing long term damage to hundreds of thousands of young people.
A new study published on Monday by environmental law organisation ClientEarth reveals that 60% of parents want traffic diverted away from school gates at the beginning and end of the school day, with just 13% opposed.
Last year a Guardian investigation revealed that hundreds of thousands of children are being exposed to illegal levels of damaging air pollution outside their schools and colleges – mainly from diesel vehicles.
Health experts have repeatedly warned that exposure to this level of air pollution is doing serious long term damage to children’s health and have described the issue as a public health emergency.
The government has been widely criticised for its lack of action and last week it was defeated for the third time in the high court where its air pollution plans were described as “flawed” and “unlawful.”
Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, said: “For parents, there is nothing worse than worrying about the health and wellbeing of your child. Yet in Britain we’ve reached a point where children are exposed to damaging levels of air pollution every day. This is simply unacceptable.”
Cook said children’s lungs are far more vulnerable than adults, as they are still developing, and toxic air can stunt their growth.
“Children who grow up to have smaller lungs are likely to have significant health problems in later life, and therefore the negative health effects of dirty air on children need to be given far greater prominence.”
ClientEarth and the British Lung Foundation are launching a new Clean Air Parents’ Network, set up for concerned parents across the country who want to help solve the UK’s air pollution crisis.
Andrea Lee, a senior campaigner at ClientEarth which took the government to court last week, said: “It’s clear from these findings that parents are deeply worried about the air their children are breathing and want something done about it.
“The Clean Air Parents’ Network will help them start conversations and engage with local and national decision-makers who have not just a moral but a legal duty to take urgent and bold action to tackle the illegal and harmful levels of air pollution that are putting their families’ health at risk.”
Monday’s poll, carried out by YouGov for ClientEarth, also found that 63% of parents opposed new schools being built in areas of high pollution; 60% were worried about the effect that air pollution was having on their children’s health and 70% were in favour of the government alerting schools on high pollution days.
The results follow ClientEarth’s third court victory against the UK government over illegal and harmful levels of air pollution across the country.
On Wednesday last week, Mr Justice Garnham ruled ministers’ plans to bring down air pollution unlawful. Following the judgment, clean air in the UK will be overseen by the courts, rather than ministers, in what was described as a “wholly exceptional” ruling.