BY JAMES TWOMEY
A new study which will put air monitoring technology in school children’s backpacks is taking place to understand the levels of toxic air young Londoners breathe on their way to school.
Students from Haimo Primary School in Greenwich will take part in the study by King’s College London, which will see them wear specially-adapted backpacks to and from school for a week.
Weighing just over 1kg, the sensors fit into lightweight bags and measure particulate matter – PM2.5 and PM10 – and nitrogen dioxide levels.
The children involved will use the backpacks like a normal bag, 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 help King’s 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.
Dr Ben Barratt, from King’s College London, said: “Air pollution has been found 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.
“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 road outside Haimo Primary School had already been turned into a ‘school street’, which means it is closed to traffic at the start and end of the day. This has led to a 35 per cent reduction in parents driving children to school, a 33 per cent increase in scooting and an 11 per cent increase in walking.
Kate Barnes, headteacher at Haimo Primary School, said: “Haimo children work hard to promote and campaign for changes that support a healthy lifestyle for themselves, our community and beyond. They are aware of the dangers of air pollution and how action is needed and have successfully campaigned for Haimo Road to be closed both at the start and end of the school day.
“Haimo children are very excited to be taking part in the Breathe London Wearable Study and believe that this is a great way to audit the air quality and further develop the engagement and responsibility of the youngest members of our society.”
Mr Khan, the mayor of London, is funding the study which is also taking part in four other primary schools in the city and launched the project on Tuesday morning at Haimo Primary School.
Mayor Khan said: “It remains a shameful fact that London’s toxic air is harming the lung growth and health of our young children, and City Hall is 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 and ensure our children inherit 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.”