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London monitors air quality with sensor-equipped school backpacks

Primary school pupils in London will carry backpacks fitted with air quality sensors on their journey to and from school to help monitor the levels of toxic air.


As part of what London claims is the largest study of its kind, 250 pupils from five London primary schools will wear specially adapted backpacks to and from school for a week.


Weighing just over 1kg, the sensors, which have been developed by Dyson engineers in cooperation with King’s College London, fit into lightweight bags and measure particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels.


The children will use the backpacks like a normal bag (the monitor takes up just one pocket), allowing the monitors to record pollutant levels on each child’s journey to school and throughout the school day.


The data from this study will allow scientists to analyse at which point of their journey to school children are exposed to the most pollution.


The data from this study will allow scientists to analyse at which point of their journey to school (or which part of their school day) children are exposed to the most pollution. They will also be able to compare the exposure of children who have similar journeys but take different routes and travel modes and then make recommendations of how children can reduce their exposure in future.


Civic responsibility


Air pollution has been shown to restrict lung growth in children. Low lung function in childhood can persist into adulthood and is often associated with other health problems including chronic obstructive lung disease in later life.


Dr Ben Barratt, King’s College London, said: “Analysing the impact of air pollution and providing information to our local, national and international communities is a core component of King’s civic responsibility.


"By monitoring the air that children breathe on the journey to and from school, we will gain a better understanding of which pollutants are the most harmful and where they are coming from, helping us to support effective improvements in public health.”


The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, commented: “It remains a shameful fact that London’s toxic air is harming the lung growth and health of our young children, and we are determined to do everything in our power to protect them.


"An issue this large and complex requires bold and innovative action to protect future generations."


“An issue this large and complex requires bold and innovative action to protect future generations and ensure our children breathe cleaner, healthier air. I’m proud that we’re able to launch world-leading studies like this which will help us find new ways to reduce children’s exposure to toxic air.


“I hope the success of this scheme will act as a blueprint for cities around the world as they battle their own toxic air emergencies.”


Breathe London


The wearable sensors are the latest stage of the Breathe London project, which aims to create the most comprehensive air quality monitoring network of its kind in the world.


London, which also includes more than 100 fixed monitors and the deployment of air quality monitoring cars on the streets of London, was devised by City Hall and C40 Cities – the global alliance of cities committed to addressing climate change.


Once this approach and technology has been proven in London, the goal is to see it introduced in cities around the world.


Ultra Low Emission Zone


The launch of the backpack sensors comes less than three weeks before the Mayor introduces the world’s first 24 hours-a-day Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London. Drivers of the most polluting cars, vans and motorcycles will be required to pay £12.50 (£100 for buses, coaches and lorries) to enter the ULEZ, which will operate in the area currently covered by the Congestion Charge.


London’s City Hall predicts that the ULEZ could cut harmful emissions in central London by up to 45 per cent.


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