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New campaign launches to tackle air pollution outside schools

A new campaign will teach children and their families about air pollution, focusing on raising awareness of the impact of leaving a car’s engine running when parked.

BCP Council, Public Health Dorset (PHD) and active travel charity Sustrans are working together to improve local air quality and raise awareness of the causes of dirty air and how to reduce it.

A pilot campaign is underway at six local schools to teach children about how their travel choices can influence how clean the air is.

Pupils at Christchurch Infants, Christchurch Juniors, Winton Primary, Bethany Juniors, Canford Heath Infants & Canford Heath Juniors have been involved in the pilot, which has included classroom workshops, idling counts and science investigations, poster competitions, art installations, home learning activities and active travel days.

The project is also developing a ‘Clean Air Schools’ toolkit which links into the national curriculum.

It will help other schools across the BCP area to learn about what air quality actually means, what components can make it dangerous for our health, why children are more vulnerable to air pollution and what we can do to make our air quality better.

The toolkit will also provide resources and ideas for local schools to run their own air quality awareness and anti-idling campaigns.

Cllr Nicola Greene, BCP Council’s portfolio holder for education said: ‘People idling their engines, particularly outside schools, is already recognised as a problem. Many drivers do not realise that it is against the Highway Code to leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road or to leave a parked vehicle unattended with the engine idling.

‘We hope that this grass roots initiative will not only teach our children about the issues associated with air quality and car-idling, but they in turn will tell their parents about what they learned, which will hopefully encourage drivers to turn off their engine when their cars aren’t moving and lead to improved air quality outside our schools.’

Kate Salter, Bike It Plus Air Quality Officer from Sustrans commented: ‘We’ve been really impressed by how enthusiastic local school children have been when learning about the air they breathe and the negative impact of engine idling on air quality. Parents have told me that their children have reminded them to switch off their engines and even insisted on walking or cycling more. They’re fascinated by facts such as one minute’s worth of engine idling equating to 150 balloons filled with carbon dioxide, toxic nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.’

Rachel Partridge, Deputy Director at Public Health Dorset, added: ‘We know that exposure to air pollution, including from vehicle emissions, can lead to increased risk of several short- and long-term health conditions including asthma, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. The longer someone is exposed to this pollution, the more damage can be done, and the effects of air pollution on someone’s health may not become apparent for many years.

‘Children living in environments with higher levels of air pollution, the majority of which comes from vehicles, can be particularly susceptible to developing these health problems. That is why it is really important to work together on a range of initiatives to improve air quality, including reducing vehicle emissions and promoting active and sustainable travel, around schools and school routes.’

The anti-idling campaign is being funded through a £30,000 grant secured by BCP Council through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Photo supplied by BCP Council

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Peter Murtagh
Peter Murtagh
1 year ago

Good news indeed. I have been campaigning for a good years on the issue, handing out leaflets to parents, putting up posters on lampposts, addressing parent evenings at the nearby school (and not without personal risk, threats, vandalism to our house etc), writing frequently to the school board, to councillors etc. In the last year the local authority seem to have come on board at last, and are making efforts to tackle idling around schools. It would be interesting to see some of the eduucational material ; there are many good example particularly from Canada. There is much pressure on teachers to be continuously adapting the curriculum; I know from experience.Is there a role -Disclosure permitting- for community volunteers/adults to participate and help ?
Of some concern though is the anecdotal evidence that some authorities in Scotland and preparing to submit a request to revoke the expensive monitoring of air quality. This is referenced in an official report prepared for the Scottish Government in August 2021. A combination of reduced emission due to reduced traffic during the ‘lockdown’ period, and the use of new MCERT monitors whose results vary considerably from the older equipment, and have yet to be calibrated, has led to some councils preparing a submission to withdraw from Air Quality Monitoring presentely in place . Whilst no decision had yet been reached, it is a worrying trend.

Kate Salter
Kate Salter
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Murtagh

Hi Peter, Please excuse the delay – I hadn’t seen this response until now. Thanks for all you have done. It is vital that we raise awareness of the issue, so that we can protect the health of our children (and ourselves). We now have further funding, so this project is being started up again. Volunteers would be an incredible asset. If anyone is reading this and is keen to get involved, please send us an email via the contact button on the Sustrans website. Many thanks.

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