Monday, September 16, 2013

How Polluted is my (Child’s) School?

We learn from 38 Degrees that the Government is considering removing the legal requirement for local authorities to monitor air quality. Of course this does not mean that they are required not to. It means they are free to choose to do so or not – part, I suppose, of the government’s agenda to delegate powers to local authorities. The trouble with this is that local authorities are a bit strapped for cash because the government is slashing trimming their budgets at the same time. We know that Redbridge is down from seven air quality monitoring stations to two and that our one on Fullwell Cross roundabout was decomissioned 2 years ago. However, we also know that the council are using diffusion tubes at this site – you can see them inside the grill. It is, however, a much trimmed activity with little funding, and it seems a very low priority at present.

Which leads me to the recent announcement from Air Quality News of the launch of the London School Air Pollution website.
The ‘how polluted is my school?’ webpage allows users to identify the 1,148 schools located within 150 metres of roads used by 10,000 or more vehicles per day and at substantial risk from air pollution.
London Assembly Member Jenny Jones, who launched the site said: “Pupils who attend a school by a busy polluted road would be exposed to harmful levels of vehicle pollution during their school years. We need big ideas like reducing traffic by lowering fares, with improved public transport and cycling facilities.”
Furthermore, she called for additional measures to reduce the impact of air pollution at schools, such as: no engine idling campaigns [1] outside schools; green roofs and plants to cut airbourne particulates; and low energy ventilation systems to ensure fresh air within school buildings.
What is surprising is that if you look at the map the schools around Fullwell Cross roundabout are not on there. True they may well be more than 150 meters from the A123 but that’s where they are on their way to and from school and at lunchtime in the many eateries in the High Street.

We can confirm, with our own Diffusion tube readings, that the pollution levels drop off quite rapidly with distance from source. All those at the roundabout, High Street and Fencepiece Road were well above the legal limit of 40mg/m3 whereas those by Clore Tikva, Mossford Lane and Tomswood Hill were within limits but still worrying. However, we need to understand that these are mean (average) readings collected over a period of 4 weeks one of which was a school holiday. They do not show the peaks and troughs, which we would expect to be much lower during night time and much higher during peak travel times and the school run.

We have had an enquiry from GRASS (Goodmayes Residents’ Association) who wish to do their own monitoring but they want to know the measurements at peak congestion times for which diffusion tubes are not suitable. So, they, like us, are now looking at real time measurements using an Air Quality Egg.

"The more you provide services for things that people can do for themselves, the more you diminish social capital” Cormac Russell

Note: Redbridge Council has recently received funding from the Mayor of London to tackle air pollution around schools. The princely sum of £100,000 will cover three years and will be spent at two of the borough’s schools in South Ilford.

[1] We raised the issue of engine idling at a recent Area 3 meeting pointing out that neighbouring Havering Council will fine drivers for this offence. Report in the Ilford Recorder here. No prizes for guessing which Area 3 councillor could not support such measures.


  1. My husband was cutting the hedge one day this summer and a 4x4 was parked outside our house with the engine running and the driver talking on her mobile. It was a warm day (you don't need to cut privet in cold weather as it doesn't grow) so there would have been no need to heat the interior of the vehicle. After about ten minutes with engine still running and phone still glued to ear, my husband, sick of the fumes, tapped on the driver's window. It was opened and he was glared at. He asked the lady to turn off her engine while she talked as the fumes were making him feel sick. She refused. He then asked her if she knew that it is an offence to keep a car engine running while the vehicle is parked. Another furious glare and she drove off.

    Your post makes it clear that it is not an offence in Redbridge to keep an engine idling while the vehicle is parked. Happily the lady concerned didn't know that. Not only do I support the introduction of a fine but it would also be a good idea to publicise the fact as widely as possible so that we all know not only that we can't do it but we can justifiably ask others not to do it either.

  2. Some of the pollution is created by vehicles used by doting parents to transport their lethargic non-ambulant off-spring to and from school. At the end of the school day the cars can be there, engines running, for anything up to 20 minutes before school ends just to secure prime position closest to the school gate thus reducing even further the distance that the little (and sometimes not so little) darlings are obliged to walk.

    Commuter parking near to railway stations is restricted by short-term parking prohibitions. Properly and regularly enforced these are generally effective. Why not similar schemes around schools?

  3. Has the NO2 finally poisoned our brains? At no point in the past 10 years has Fullwell Cross got remotely close to meeting the 40mg/m3 limit for human health let alone the 32mg/m3 figure that is the EU upper limit. According to published Redbridge data, King Solomon HS is possibly the most polluted school in the borough yet it is not listed. (Page 16, Redbridge 3 - Fullwell Cross)

    No doubt Air Quality News will soon be trotted out as an example of independent experts stating that pollution is not an issue in Fullwell Cross.