University designs pioneering air pollution screen for schools

The University of Sheffield has designed a pioneering green pollution barrier to protect school children from the effects of air pollution.

The 60m screen, made of a custom mix of plants, is designed to deflect and absorb air pollution from passing traffic and improve air quality around school playgrounds.

The barrier, designed by researchers as part of the university’s BREATHE project, is soon set to be installed around the playground of Hunter’s Bar Infant School in Sheffield.

The university hopes that the barrier will raise awareness of air quality around inner-city schools and offer a solution for schools looking to counter air pollution.

Hunter’s Bar’s head teacher Catherine Carr said: ‘Air quality around schools is still a relatively young topic, although increasingly we find it making headlines, particularly in London, as school communities are becoming more vocal about its effects.

‘While air pollution levels at Hunter’s Bar Infant School are not any worse than other schools in the city, we don’t want to be complacent. We believe that by partnering with the University of Sheffield’s BREATHE project in this research, we can help other schools find workable solutions and be part of real change for children.’

Hunter’s Bar Infant School will be the first school to try the University of Sheffield’s new ‘green’ pollution barrer. Credit: The Univerity of Sheffield.

The barrier, designed by PhD researcher Maria del Carmen Redondo Bermúdez, is expected to work by forming a barrier against the wind which brings contaminants into the school’s playground.

Unlike most green walls, which hang vertically and rely on complex irrigation systems, the plants in the BREATHE barrier will be grown naturally.

The plants – including honeysuckle, jasmine and ivy – will be installed in a narrow strip around the perimeter of the playground, reducing installation and maintenance costs.

The barrier is set to be planted at Hunter’s Bar this summer with parents and stuff currently raising funds for equipment and pupils set to take part in special ‘planting parties’.

Once the screen has been installed, researchers will also assess the wider wellbeing benefits its presence has had on the school’s pupils.

Professor Anna Jorgensen, head of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape Architecture, said: ‘If we can show that our green barrier makes a positive difference to air quality and children’s health and wellbeing, there’s great potential to involve other schools locally, nationally and internationally.’

Air pollution regularly reaches illegal levels outside schools across the UK, which has led schools and health bodies to call for urgent action.

Public Health England has proposed a ban on all vehicles idling outside hospitals and schools, while a recent survey found that 63% of teachers wanted to see cars and buses banned outside school gates during pick-up and drop-off times.