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05 May 2022
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The Impact of Air Pollution Around Schools

The dangers posed by air pollutants are a key concern for people and communities around the world. One area in particular that has seen increased attention in recent years is the impact of poor air quality around schools.

Research commissioned by leading respiratory charities in the UK has found that more than ¼ of British schools and colleges are in areas where there are dangerously high levels of air pollution. This means that there are over three million children learning in an environment which can be damaging to their health. Research from Queen Mary’s University finds that children are disproportionately exposed to higher levels of air pollution whilst they are at school.

Air pollution around schools is a worry due to children’s increased susceptibility to the negative effects of air pollutants. Children are at increased risk due to their higher breathing rate compared to adults and the fact that their airways are still developing.

It has long been accepted that air pollution can have severe impacts on the respiratory system and lead to increased levels of asthma, lung cancer and heart disease, with a recent study finding that one in 12 cases of asthma in children could be caused by nitrogen dioxide exposure. More recent research is now pointing to the impact of air pollution on the brain and cognitive development.

Research from the University of Manchester has shown that exposure to air pollution can negatively impact brain health, potentially leading to ADHD, learning disabilities and other cognitive impairments. The study has shown that air pollutants can have a negative impact on cognitive functioning in children. In particular, it was found that exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) adversely affects attention control and working memory. Attention control is the ability to focus for extended periods without distraction whilst working memory is the ability to keep information in mind temporarily. These are skills which are vital to successful learning in schools, with working memory being found to have a direct link to academic achievement. As well as these cognitive impacts, it has been found that growing up in an area with poor air quality can have  other harmful effects on children including stunted growth and worsened chronic illnesses.

A number of changes can be made to make an improvement to air quality around schools and decrease the exposure of children to harmful air pollutants. Things such as moving school entrances and play areas away from busy roads, promoting cycling and walking, ensuring there is enough parking for scooters and bikes,  reducing traffic congestion directly outside the school, and creating incentives for cleaner travel can all help improve the air quality in the area directly around schools. Air quality monitoring can help schools understand when and where pollution is worst and use this data to put the most effective measures in place.

To read more about Crowcon’s air quality monitoring solution please visit crowcon.com/air-quality.

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