Camden schools study reveals deadly pollution levels

Dee Searle, member of the Camden Green Party, presents the results of a community pollution monitoring project around Camden's schools

Dee Searle
Tue 22 Aug 2017

Members of Camden Green Party have been participating in a community project to tackle dangerously high air pollution levels faced by local children. This involved a three-month citizen science programme to monitor poisonous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at all of the north London borough's 100 schools.

The borough-wide programme, which was led by Camden Air Action (CAA) and partly funded by Camden Council, is thought to be one of Britain's biggest schools air quality projects. It incorporated three consecutive months of monitoring, from mid-February to mid-May, with the aim of better understanding pollution levels revealed by previous month-long individual snapshots and engaging the council, parents and schools in tackling the threat to children's health.

The first month's monitoring showed NO2 levels at all schools were above 20µg/m3, which the World Health Organization deems unhealthy, and most were near or above 40µg/m3, which is illegal under European Union law. Even in leafy, prosperous neighbourhoods, such as Hampstead and Highgate, schools on busy roads had levels of NO2 higher than at many of the schools in more densely populated, less affluent areas such as Kings Cross and Somers Town.

In Round 2 - which included the Easter holidays - NO2 levels fell dramatically at most schools. In Round 3 - after the holidays - 50 per cent of schools showed further falls, while levels stayed stable or increased at the other 50 per cent.

CAA spokesperson Rachel Wrangham said: "It's too early for us to draw conclusions from these findings. However, it does appear that the lighter traffic many of us experience during the school holidays does translate into lower levels of pollution at schools which are on a popular 'school run route'.

"This is not going to be simply the result of the reduced school run, as many people take holidays during these periods. However, there does seem to be an effect."

The next steps will be to compare vehicle flows with the monitoring results, to see what patterns emerge at different schools, and to develop practical solutions, starting with schools where parents and teachers joined the monitoring programme. These range from individual actions, such as walking, cycling or taking public transport instead of driving, to lobbying Camden Council to establish more play streets and cut traffic through temporary road closures during school drop-off and pick-up times.