Research monitored children from 28 schools in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Greenwich and the City of London which failed to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits.
Analysis from London’s City Hall reveals that children in the UK capital are four times more likely to go to school in areas with high levels of pollution that exceeds the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) limits than children in the rest of England.
There are two main air pollutants of concern in London, based on their impact on human health: nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5).
The analysis also reveals 3.1 million English children are attending schools in areas exceeding WHO limits for PM2.5.
Mayor Sadiq Khan’s strategies and actions to improve air quality have led to a substantial reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding legal limits for NO2 and significant reductions in the levels of PM2.5. Tens of thousands of Londoners still breathe polluted air, however, and 99 per cent of Londoners live in areas exceeding the WHO recommended guidelines for PM2.5, which are stricter than the legal standards.
This analysis of the national government data for annual average PM2.5 in 2019 also shows that, before the pandemic:
A study of the impact of London’s air pollution found children growing up in polluted parts of the capital showed significantly smaller lung volume, with a loss of approximately five per cent in lung capacity – equivalent to two large eggs – compared to their peers in the rest of England.
“For too long it has been accepted that children growing up in London will breathe more polluted air than their friends and family outside this great city”
The research by King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London and the University of Edinburgh monitored children from 28 schools in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Greenwich and the City of London which failed to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits. Another study by Imperial College, commissioned by City Hall, found that the mayor’s air quality policies and wider improvements in air pollution will increase the average life expectancy of a child born in London in 2013 by six months.
Measures, including the central London ultra low emission zone (Ulez), introduced by the mayor in his first term, had already cut the number of state schools located in areas with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution by 97 per cent – from 455 schools in 2016 to just 14 in 2019.
Research shows that those exposed to the worst air pollution are more likely to be deprived Londoners and from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (Bame) communities. The Ulez expansion in combination with the mayor’s other air quality policies will help reduce the exposure gap between the most and least deprived areas by 71 per cent by 2030.
The difference in exposure between areas with the highest and lowest proportion of BAME residents will reportedly decrease by up to 85 per cent. There is also emerging evidence linking air pollution with an increased vulnerability to the most severe impacts of Covid.
“We can’t sleep walk from the health crisis of Covid back into complacency over the major impact of toxic air on everyone’s health”
“For too long it has been accepted that children growing up in London will breathe more polluted air than their friends and family outside this great city,” said Sadiq Khan. “But I don’t accept this. I’m doing everything in my power to stop young Londoners breathing air so filthy that it damages their lungs and causes thousands of premature deaths every year. This is why I’m expanding the ultra low emission zone later this year.
“I want to make sure all of London meets the World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter. But I can’t do it alone and I want to work with government to achieve this goal. That’s why I’m asking for the new Environment Bill to include legally binding WHO recommended limits to be achieved by 2030. We can’t sleep walk from the health crisis of Covid back into complacency over the major impact of toxic air on everyone’s health.”
The expansion of the Ulez up to the North and South Circular roads in October this year is not only vital to achieving compliance with legal limits for air pollution but is also a key step towards meeting the more stringent health-driven World Health Organisation guidelines for toxic particulate pollution by 2030. With the expansion of the Ulez and tightening of the low emission zone for heavy vehicles earlier this year, tougher emission standards will reduce PM2.5 exhaust emissions by 35 per cent in inner London.