School air filters to be introduced to combat pollution

Sadiq Khan has revealed plans to install air filters in 200 London schools, as part of a £2.7million trial.

By Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Sadiq khan standing in front of a school bookcase
London mayor Sadiq Khan. Photo: Noah Vickers

Sadiq Khan has revealed plans to install air filters in 200 London schools, as part of a £2.7million trial to see whether they can be provided to every school in the capital.

The mayor said the scheme was needed to help London “make progress even further and faster” on reducing the impacts of toxic air.

According to City Hall, the 200 schools “will be selected based on pollution levels, as well as those in more deprived areas” to ensure an even spread across London.

Mr Khan said: “I am doing everything in my power to stop Londoners breathing filthy, poisonous air. We know that the impact of pollution on young people’s health can be particularly acute, causing lasting damage to children’s lungs.

“Since I first became mayor, there has been a significant reduction in the number of schools in areas which exceed the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide, but we need to make progress even further and faster.

“Alongside parents and teachers, I want every single child to breathe clean air in and around their school. In those vital early years, the difference to young people’s health and wellbeing can be life-changing.”

The £2.7m investment will pay for particulate filters themselves, as well as covering the cost of school engagement, educational materials, monitoring the impact of the programme and maintenance of the filters.

A City Hall research project is currently ascertaining the best type of filter to use. This is due for completion in May, with the first filters installed later this year. One model under consideration works using fans and replaceable filter cartridges to trap particulate matter (PM2.5) as the air circulates.

The plans have won support from Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah CBE, whose nine-year-old daughter Ella died from asthma in 2013 because she lived near roads with illegal levels of toxic air.

Ella had over 30 emergency hospital admissions between asthma being diagnosed and her death. At the time, there was no mention of air pollution being a possible factor. But a landmark second inquest in 2020 resulted in the coroner concluding that “Ella died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution”.

Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said: “As a London school teacher, I know the difference that having a safe and healthy environment in the classroom can have on children’s learning and on their broader health.

“Children are most affected by breathing in air pollution, and the devastating effects on their health are not always shown. But the evidence tells us that breathing toxic air stunts their cognitive development, their hearts, lungs, brains and causes conditions such as asthma, which is still killing between eight and twelve children in London every year. We must do more to clean up the air for our children.

“All children regardless of where they live or what school they go to, have a right to breathe clean air and I hope all London’s schools will have similar filters fitted to the ones announced today.”

The mayor’s office said Mr Khan had already cut the number of London educational establishments with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution by 94 per cent between 2016 and 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.

But they warned that most London schools still exceed the World Health Organization interim guideline for PM2.5 pollution.

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