Polluted playgrounds: Urgent action needed on air pollution, say Greens

A week after smog hit England, and with the UK facing EU fines because of air pollution levels, Greens across the country are calling for urgent action to clean up the toxic air threatening people’s health.

With 29,000 people dying every year because of air pollution, Greens have hit out at the Government’s record and accused Ministers of ‘astonishing complacency’. 

Greens are speaking up on air pollution today as one of the Party’s MEP’s, Keith Taylor, launches a report which shows that thousands of children in South East England are going to school near polluted roads. 

The new report by Keith Taylor, the Green Party MEP for South East England, shows that approximately 27,920 children of primary school age are attending schools in South East England within a 150m radius of heavy traffic points. Many thousands more go to school within 450m of the region’s busiest roads. The report, which covers West Berkshire, East Sussex, West Sussex, Oxfordshire, Bracknell and Kent local authorities, comes just days after the region was hit by a serious smog episode. 

The report compiles information from Freedom of Information requests sent to councils across South East England. 

Keith Taylor, the Green Party’s MEP for South East England and a clean air campaigner, said: 

“The last week has shown the Government’s astonishing complacency on air pollution. Despite 29,000 people dying every year because of toxic air, and the European Commission beginning legal proceedings against the UK, the Prime Minister had the audacity to blame last weeks smog entirely on Saharan Dust. 

“Of course the smog that hit the UK last week was partly because of dust from the Sahara but it was hugely exacerbated by the unacceptably high levels of air pollution we have in our towns and cities.” 

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, said: 

“I awoke this morning to bright clear skies in London, without the visible of last week. But we mustn’t be fooled. The health-threatening nitrogen dioxide and small particulates are still there, being belched out by vehicles on our congested streets. 

“Keith’s report is a reminder that up and down the country many millions in cities, towns and even villages are being subjected to high levels of this pollution, with particularly bad effects on our children. Once their lungs have been effected they will carry the effects for life; we have to act to end this health threat.” 

Road traffic is the biggest source of air pollution in the UK. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Particulate Matter (PM) and Ground Level Ozone (O3) are the pollutants which are particularly dangerous for human health, causing both respiratory and heart problems.

Children and the elderly are most at risk from high levels of air pollution. Research has shown that living near heavy traffic points (roads where 10,000 or more cars pass daily) can be attributed to 15-30% of new asthma cases in children as well as affecting the development of lung capacity. Short term exposure to air pollution can result in irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, as well as bronchitis and pneumonia. In the long term, air pollution can result in lung diseases, cancer, nerve, kidney, liver and brain damage, as well as heart attacks. 

Keith Taylor, who produced the ‘Polluted Playgrounds’ report, said: 

“This report makes clear just how many children across South East England are going to school near busy roads that are likely to be very polluted. 

We know that air pollution is a serious threat to children’s health, and we know that thousands of people die every year because of the effects of air pollution. 

It’s abundantly clear that action on air pollution is needed. Many of our towns and cities need to radically rethink the way they are dealing with air pollution. 

We need clean public transport options, plus a huge improvement in the numbers of people cycling and walking. With the EU Commission threatening to the fine this county we also need the UK Government to take this problem seriously and invest in local schemes that will cut air pollution.”


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