More than 1,000 nurseries in England are within 150m of roads that break legal limits for air pollution, according to a major new investigation from Greenpeace.
While the majority of nurseries close to polluted roads are in London, an analysis of official government data shows the problem stretches far beyond the capital to towns and cities all over England.
Outside London, the top 10 local authority areas most affected are Birmingham, Sandwell, Nottingham, Plymouth, Manchester, Leicester, Hampshire, Leeds, Wolverhampton and Salford.
In London, there are more than 750 nurseries within 150m of an air pollution hotspot, while more than 20 nurseries are close to a road where nitrogen dioxide levels are double the legal limit.
The findings come just days before the government is expected to publish a revised plan to tackle air pollution after the previous one was deemed inadequate by the High Court.
‘Most people don’t realise that all across the country, toddlers are being exposed to invisible air pollution caused by diesel vehicles. At such a young age, children are extremely vulnerable to its effects, and it can cause long-lasting health impacts and reduced lung function.
‘We were told diesel cars were the cleaner choice, but car makers lied about how much pollution they emit. That deception has left our kids exposed to toxic air pollution that’s causing widespread chronic health problems.’
Clean air campaigner at Greenpeace
The Greenpeace investigation is the first analysis of nurseries’ proximity to pollution hotspots to include cities outside London, and the first anywhere in the UK to include privately run nurseries.
The researchers took the government’s data on roadside air pollution and overlaid it with the geo-coordinates of nurseries obtained from Ofsted and Department of Education databases.
Scientific studies show high exposure to polluted air at a young age can cause chronic health problems that last a lifetime. In young children, air pollution can cause asthma and stunt lung growth by up to 10%.
Greenpeace is calling for the car industry to ditch diesel and switch to electric, and for the government to support urgent transformation on our roads away from diesel and towards hybrid and electric vehicles.
Environmental campaigners have urged ministers to help drivers switch to cleaner cars through a national diesel scrappage scheme and investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
‘The research is largely consistent across studies in the US, Europe and also in London, that traffic fume exposure is associated with stunted lung development in young children.
‘This is important because air pollution is affecting lung development of children in nurseries in cities and towns across England. It’s a national problem.
‘Although Greenpeace’s investigation relates to the EU annual legal limit for NO2 pollution there isn’t an accepted safe level. So even toddlers in nurseries where the exposure levels are lower will also be at risk of damage to lung growth.’
Professor of primary care at Barts and the London School of Medicine
Diesel vehicles are responsible for 90% of the poisonous nitrogen oxides (NOx) coming from roads.
Following the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal that rocked the car industry in 2015, it’s come to light that car companies have been knowingly breaking air pollution standards.
Despite some moves to alter testing regulations and ‘fix’ some of the cars, two-thirds of the newest EURO 6 diesel cars still aren’t meeting emissions standards in real world conditions. And some new diesel cars emit 15 times more toxic pollution than they are supposed to.
‘What’s clear is that moving nurseries is not the solution. Avoiding dangerous air pollution just isn’t an option if you live in an urban area. People also live near these roads, and have to use them to get around. The only way to make our communities safe is to tackle air pollution head on.
‘To fix this problem we need wholesale transformation on our roads away from diesel and towards hybrid and electric vehicles. Both the government and the car companies need to work urgently to fix this.’
Clean air campaigner at Greenpeace
The government has been ordered by the High Court to look again at its plans to tackle air pollution, in part because its modelling of the scale of the problem was too optimistic and didn’t take into account real world emissions from cars exceeding pollution limits. It has a deadline of 24 April 2017 to publish its new plan and revised modelling.
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