London Assembly members and campaigners have called for action on air pollution following suggestions from the London Mayor’s environment advisor that children should be kept away from playgrounds during bad smog episodes.
In an interview on London FM radio station LBC on Wednesday (February 27), the London Mayor’s environment and political advisor Matthew Pencharz said it may be “sensible” for children to avoid being in the playground in areas of high smog.
He said: “Areas of high smog, which do happen now and again because of climatic conditions, it may be sensible for the children not to be in the playground then, but I have to say that to start saying that children shouldn’t be allowed outside, I think that is a little unreasonable.”
As a result, London Assembly member for the Green Party Jenny Jones called for an increase in the money designated to school projects through the Mayor’s Clean Air Fund, as well as a series of measures including no idling engine campaigns, air pollution awareness campaigns, special school travel plans and low energy ventilation systems in school buildings.
The same radio report also featured Professor Frank Kelly of King’s College London, who spoke about previous research (see airqualitynews.com story) which has found a link between pollution exposure during a child’s crucial years of development and permanently smaller lungs.
He said: “Children who go to school or live within 500 metres of a busy freeway had an underdeveloped lung by the time they reached 18 years of age, and this is very serious because it is something they cannot regain and will carry with them of the rest of their lives.”
Transport for London (TfL) figures from 2011 also cited in the report showed that there are 2,270 London schools within 400m of a road carrying more than 10,000 vehicles a day.
Jenny Jones said: “Warnings and advice are welcome, but what London’s parents want is urgent action. The Mayor should at the very least make available sufficient funds for all schools in pollution hotspots to take measures to cut their pollution exposure.”
She added: “Knowing that pollution can permanently damage children’s lungs, the Mayor cannot continue to dither and delay in putting out regular pollution warnings to alert schools and vulnerable people with respiratory problems.”
She called on the Mayor to increase the money allocated to school projects through the Clean Air Fund from the current £100,000 up to £800,000, as this would “help schools identify their pollution exposure and enable them to take measures to reduce children’s exposure, within the school and through their travel choices.”
Also responding to Mr Pencharz’s comments, Maria Arnold of campaign groups HealthyAir and ClientEarth called for action to tackle schoolchildren’s exposure to air pollution: “This latest statement from the Mayor’s office is the latest in a line of events which add to the feeling that doing nothing won’t remain an option for very much longer.”
She said: “I am pleased to see the Mayor’s office forced to make such a stark statement which makes clear how real the impacts can be. It’s a complete contrast to the usual underplaying of risks that goes on in government.”
She added: “While the picture conveniently painted of air pollution contributing to the premature deaths of those with existing illness might be easily ignored – an image of children growing up with smaller lungs is surely not so easy to push to the back of your mind.”
Personal air quality monitoring tests by King’s College London scientists, which took place in November 2012, found variances in pollution exposure between different methods and routes to school for a London pupil (see airqualitynews.com story).
The LBC radio report is available to download and listen to here.