‘Hundreds’ of London schools exposed to illegal NO2

Diesel vehicles in part to blame as 328,000 school children and 3.8 million workers found exposed to illegal air pollution

As many as 328,000 school children and 3.8 million workers in London are exposed to air pollution levels above legal limits largely due to diesel vehicle emissions, research by King’s College London (KCL) and think tank Policy Exchange suggests.

Inforgraphic showing NO2 levels in London (image: King's College London/Policy Exchange)

Click to enlarge infographic showing NO2 levels in London (image: King’s College London/Policy Exchange)

The study found that 979 out of a total of 3,161 primary, secondary and independent schools in London were situated in areas with levels of nitrogen dioxide above legal limits, covering nearly 25% of schoolchildren in the capital.

Furthermore, children attending schools in central London boroughs such as Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Camden are particularly at risk from harmful NO2 pollution.

The findings come in a new joint report published yesterday (November 30) by KCL and the think tank which analyses data from more than 100 air quality monitoring sites across the UK capital operated by the university.

It is part of a partnership between the two organisations, first announced in July 2015, aimed at developing effective policies to tackle air pollution in London (see story).

The data shows that 12.5% of the total area of London currently exceeds the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) of 40ugm3 (40 microgrammes per cubic metre), affecting as much as 44% of London’s workforce.

King's College London school children graphic

Click to enlarge infographic showing schoolchildren NO2 exposure in London (image: King’s College London/Policy Exchange)

Meanwhile, parts of the capital currently have levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) almost four times the legal limit, and deprived parts of the capital are more likely to be affected.

Diesel vehicles

According to the report — ‘Up in the Air’ — while a number of good initiatives have been put in place in recent years, the failure to tackle to problem is due to the growth in the number of diesel vehicles, including buses, taxis and passenger cars.

This is because, the study argues, diesel cars have “systematically failed to match up to emissions standards due to illegal and legal cheating of emissions tests”.

Additionally, the ongoing growth in decentralised energy across London “could also pose a threat to air quality”, the report claims, with gas combustion in buildings blamed for 48% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 2025 in the centre of the capital.

But, despite the slow progress to date on tackling the issue, the report’s author — Policy Exchange head of environment and energy Richard Howard — believes that improvements in NO2 levels in London by 2025 could lead to an improvement in life expectance of up to six months.

Mr Howard said: “The case for tackling air pollution in London is clear. London’s air is unhealthy to breathe.”

“Children are particularly vulnerable to unsafe levels of air pollution. Our research highlights that nearly a quarter of all children in London attend schools which are exposed to illegal and unhealthy air pollution. The government and City Hall are responding to the challenge, but our analysis highlights how much further we need to go to improve the level of air quality in London.”


Reacting to the report, environmental NGO ClientEarth — which recently threatened to take the government back to the Supreme Court over illegal NO2 levels (see story) — said the findings “cast doubt on the government’s claims that London air will be within legal limits by 2025”.

Alan Andrews, clean air lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “This report is yet further evidence that cleaning up London’s air must be an absolute priority. We took the government to court because they are failing to protect the thousands of Londoners who are dying and are being made sick each year because of air pollution. There are some good things happening in London but they are happening in spite of, rather than because of, the government.”

Commenting on the proposed 2020 ULEZ, he added that the capital needed “a bigger and better clean air zone to protect the health of everyone who breathes London’s air.”

Related Links:

KCL and Policy Exchange report: ‘Up in the Air’


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