Experts warn pollution on school run is a ‘toxic’ danger to children

Levels of pollution on the school run are 'toxic' to children, a new study has revealed.

Academics at Queen Mary University in London found that a disproportionate level of particulate matter – tiny black carbon particles – are absorbed by children as they journey to and from school.

During the study, 40 children wore monitored for 24 hours. It found that a disproportionate level of particulate matter – primarily from diesel cars – was absorbed as children made the daily commute to their classrooms.

More alarming still was that the study highlighted that a proportion of particulate matter is absorbed in classrooms and playgrounds.

Commenting on the study findings, and warning that action needs to be taken to remedy it, study lead Prof Jonathan Grigg said: ‘We know that black carbon has long-term health implications for young people and this shows that they are absorbing a disproportionate amount of these toxic particles during the school day, whether that be walking along a busy road or sitting in a car breathing in diesel fumes or even in the playground or classroom.’

Highlighting the health implications of the research findings, Amy Gibbs of Unicef UK added: ‘Every day, thousands of children across the UK are setting off on a toxic school run that could impact [on] their lifespan and contribute to serious long-term health problems.’

The results of the research may present a difficult dilemma for both parents and schools. Many schools advocate walking to school as a healthier alternative to using cars or public transport, with initiatives such as a the walking school bus and walk on Wednesdays.

Credit: Sally Anscombe/Getty Images

Last month, researchers at the Global Centre for Clean Air Research, at the University of Surrey, also revealed that pollution presents a risk to babies in strollers.

Carrying out a review of existing evidence, they found that the breathing height of infants in prams was between 0.55m and 0.85m (2ft) above ground level.

And as pollution levels are higher within 1m of ground level, these infants could be exposed to up to 60 per cent more particulate matter than adults.

Explaining further, Prof Prashant Kumar, one of the authors of the paper, said: ‘When you also consider how vulnerable they are because of their tissues, immune systems, and brain development at this early stage of their life, it is extremely worrying that they are being exposed to these dangerous levels of pollution.’