Wednesday, 1 October 2014

How clean is the air around our schools?

When we met with the Dulwich Society and local residents in the summer, several people raised concerns about air quality. Unhealthy levels of pollution exacerbated by the school run is recognised as a London-wide issue, and the Southwark School Travel Plan Team reports that parental car usage in Dulwich is the highest in the borough: "up to 40% of school journeys being made by private car". 

There are several factors leading to high car use for the Dulwich school run including patchy public transport and higher than average journey distances. But it's in all of our interests to reduce car use for the school run: according to the Environmental team, children suffer the highest exposure to harmful traffic emissions when in the car in the flow of traffic.

What can schools, children and parents do to help improve air quality in their immediate area?

Last year six primary schools across Southwark (including Bessemer Grange) took part in the Southwark Cleaner Air for schools programme. This programme included:
  • Using an Educational Toolkit to raise air quality awareness and teach science and other curriculum subjects. 
  • Engaging the whole school community (eg pupils helping raise parents' awareness of the increased pollution they cause near schools by parking too close and leaving engines idling). 
  • Supporting schools to improve and update their Travel Plans, encouraging active transport (walking and cycling), and if driving is unavoidable, encouraging parents to park well away from school gates ('park and stride') to prevent pollution hot-spots that affect their children.
  • Offering grants to reduce energy use, save money and reduce the school's carbon footprint.
Southwark Council recommends all primary schools incorporate the Cleaner Air for Schools educational programme into the curriculum. A Cleaner Air programme for secondary schools is being developed and should be available later this year. Any school interested in taking part or finding out more can email Sarah Newman, Environmental Protection Officer at Southwark Council. 

We are also exploring the possibility of schools and residents groups taking part in a new air monitoring project to gather data to record air quality in particular streets. This could provide useful evidence when planning new routes and considering the effects of motor traffic emissions. Please get in touch if you'd like to be involved.