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Doctors call for air quality monitoring trial around urban Scottish schools

Last year, The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh recommended that air quality monitors should be placed at all Scottish city primary schools for a period of at least one year, followed by a similar monitoring of all urban secondary schools.

The college have now produced a proposal for a pilot scheme that would see air quality monitors placed in and around a total of 15 schools, across five Scottish cities, for a year.

The pilot has been developed by the College’s Working Group on Air Pollution and Health and submitted to the Scottish Government.  

The working group measured the distances that schools in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth were from existing air quality monitors.

They found that of the 337 primary and 94 secondary schools examined, only one primary school was within 50m of a particulate matter monitor and only two primary schools were within 100m of a NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) monitor. There were no secondary schools within 100m of any monitor at all.

Speaking today Professor Jill Belch, Co-lead of the College’s Working Group on Air Pollution and Health, and Professor of Vascular Medicine at the University of Dundee, said: ‘Science has provided robust evidence that children are significantly harmed by air pollution, with sometimes tragic results. Whilst lung disease in children is widely recognised as a result of breathing polluted air, less well known to the public, but equally important, are the effects of this pollution on the developing organs within a child. For example, exposure to polluted air in childhood has been shown to reduce brain cognitive function in a number of key ways. Further, and of concern, is that children appear to become unwell at lower levels of pollutants than do adults.

‘At present the early work conducted by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh suggests that few school have air quality monitors nearby, so we do not actually know how well or otherwise, our children are protected. It is therefore imperative that we ensure air quality around schools is within regulatory levels, and the College’s proposal to the Scottish Government can start this process.’

Professor Andrew Elder, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the other Co-Lead of the Working Group on Air Pollution and Health, said: ‘There is overwhelming evidence that air pollution can have a wide range of detrimental health impacts on our children including problems with the lung, heart, brain and immune and hormonal systems. We also know that there is a correlation between areas of high deprivation and poor air quality and this can exacerbate pre-existing health inequalities in children and young people.

‘We are concerned at the lack of data on air quality around urban schools in Scotland- with the vast majority of urban air quality monitors currently sited too far away from schools- and believe we must collect as much accurate school level data as possible so we can have an evidence base for action.

‘The College hopes that the Scottish Government will consider our proposal positively and we remain committed to working constructively with it and all other stakeholders so that we can better understand the levels of air pollution around our schools and subsequently support implementing mitigation measures where these are required.’

Mike Corbett, National Official (Scotland) for the NASUWT said: ‘Thousands of people die each year because of occupational diseases caused by air pollution at work. Pollution arising from work and travel to work are health issues for which employers currently take little responsibility. Air pollution impacts workers and their families at all stages from before birth to old age and is particularly damaging to the growth and development of babies and children.

‘Being able to quantify the scale of the problem around our schools is the first step to cleaning up the air we and our children breathe and moving towards a heathier and safer future. NASUWT is therefore very pleased to endorse and support this proposal for pilot air quality monitoring around schools.’

Image: AI generated

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