Take smog concerns to Town Hall, parents told

Schools keep pupils indoors amid alert over pollution

Friday, 21st January — By Charlotte Chambers

Exhaust diesel fumes

ONE of the government’s top pollution advisers has told the Tribune that parents who are concerned about toxic air should ask the council to investigate – as children were kept inside schools on Friday as London choked in some of the most polluted air in the city for years.

Alasdair Lewis, who leads on air quality for the environment department, said monitoring air pollution outside schools using free-to-access apps such as Breezometer was a good starting point for parents who have concerns about smog and the devastating impact it can have on children’s long-term health.

His comments came amid government warnings to stay indoors over the weekend, with some independent schools keeping their children in over health concerns on Friday.

Mr Lewis said that Islington had a “duty to act”, should parents and headteachers contact them with concerns about toxic air. And he warned that if apps indicate certain areas are constant “red” spots for pollution, especially outside schools, the Town Hall must act.

Data collected from the Breezometer app showed that roads around every school in Islington breached World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended levels for particulate matter – regarded by experts as the most dangerous.

However, Mr Lewis cautioned that the app was not as reliable as pollution monitors directly outside school would be.

He said: “[Breezeometer] is a well-known website. It’s a good guide for the start of an investigation – it’s quite hard to know what those measurements mean.

“Are they correct? [If] there are persistent problems that appear all year then that’s different – it’s a systematic problem. They’re more difficult [for a local authority] to dismiss as there must be something that’s driving it.”

Mr Lewis also called on “communities” to take responsibility for how their own choices impact on pollution, for example by stopping the use of wood-burning stoves and cutting down on driving – particularly school journeys.

He also pointed out that meat consumption, fireworks and barbecues all contribute to pollution and said people would need to make difficult lifestyle choices.

Emma Gowers, headteacher at the Gower School in Barnsbury, said she was in “the bigger guys’ hands” when it came to air pollution as she “can’t control” the air outside.

She added: “There’s a change in society that needs to happen – everyone’s interested in safeguarding our children, but how we shop, buy things and live our lives needs to change… we need to create a culture of cycling and going to the local park.”

The school recently installed air-filtration units to address parents’ concerns over air quality.

Islington’s environment chief, Councillor Rowena Champion, said: “Islington was the first London borough to start pollution monitoring outside all schools, and our latest schools air quality report shows how air pollution levels fell outside all schools where data was available between 2019 and 2020.

“The council will also continue to work to ensure it uses the most accurate, useful methods to measure air quality outside schools.

“We’re committed to ensuring that children, parents and guardians can enjoy cleaner air outside the school gate, and will take action where we see a problem with air quality.”

She added: “We strongly support ­London-wide action to improve air quality, such as the recent expansion of the ULEZ.

“However, we ­continue to call for more, urgent action internationally and from central government to address air pollution.”

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