London

'Toxic air audits' announced for London's 'most polluted schools'

Pupils protest air pollution levels Image copyright PA
Image caption Hundreds of schools in London break European Union legal limits on safe air levels

Primary schools located in London's most polluted areas are to receive "toxic air audits", the mayor of London has announced.

The audits aim to identify ways to protect students at 50 schools in areas exceeding legal pollution limits.

Latest data from City Hall reveals pupils in 360 primaries in London breathe dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Sadiq Khan has allocated £250,000 to fund the new audits.

The Mayor's office is due to consult on plans to extend the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone to the north and south circular to increase the number of schools covered from 35 to 776.

However, a report by the Greater London Authority Conservatives published on Tuesday, said the extension would see pollution fall by just 10%.

"At a total cost of £780m to taxpayers, the mayor would be far better off investing the money in alternative measures," said Gareth Bacon AM, author of A Breath of Fresh Air.

'Health crisis'

The audit announcement comes after London saw the largest spike in pollution levels since April 2011, according to the Environmental Research Group at King's College London.

On Monday, a "very high" air pollution warning was issued for London for the first time under a new alert system, introduced last year by the mayor.

Mr Khan said: "London's filthy air is a health crisis and our children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of air pollution."

Image copyright Stefan Rousseau
Image caption Pupils and teachers delivered a letter calling for action on air pollution to protect children to Sadiq Khan

The audits, carried out by a transport and environment consultancy, will highlight ways schools could lower emissions and reduce exposure to pollutants around schools.

Suggested measures could include moving school entrances or play areas, putting in "no engine idling" zones during the school run and using "green infrastructure" such as hedges and bushes to provide barriers to fumes.

The announcement comes on the same day a letter signed by 100 head teachers in London was delivered to City Hall, calling for action on air pollution to protect pupils.

Rebecca Abrahams, head teacher at St Luke's CE school in Tower Hamlets and a signatory of the letter, said children "are being harmed by invisible air pollution from traffic" as they play outside.

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