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Clean Air Day 2021: over a quarter of UK schools are above WHO air pollution limits


  •  The charity that co-ordinates Clean Air Day today launches new research which finds 27% of UK schools (nursery, primary, secondary, sixth form) are in areas above World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution limits. 
  •  This equates to an estimate of over 3.4 million* UK (England, Scotland & Wales) children learning in an unhealthy environment. 
  •  The research launches on Clean Air Day which in light of the data, is aiming to “protect our children’s health from air pollution”


Thursday 17 June 2021 – On Clean Air Day 2021, the charity that co-ordinates the campaign Global Action Plan, today releases new data which finds over a quarter (27%) - 7,852 out of all 28,965 UK schools - are located in areas which are above World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution limits for the pollutant PM2.5 (10ug/m3).  


The data collected by EarthSense is the most comprehensive and up-to-date sample of air pollution taken from all schools across the UK and is based on data input from a 2019 annual average data set. The data measures concentrations of PM2.5 (Particulate Matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less). PM2.5 is formed of tiny particles that can cross from the lungs into the blood and then move around the body causing conditions such as heart and lung disease.  


The WHO Air Quality Guidelines (AQG) offer global guidance on thresholds and limits for key air pollutants that pose health risks. Of the 7,852 schools above the WHO PM2.5 limit of 10ug/m3, including nursery, primary, secondary and sixth forms, 98% (7692) are in England.


The charity reviewed the air quality outside schools because children are particularly vulnerable to its impacts and spend a significant amount of time at school. Starting in the womb, toxic air can harm children’s health, causing or triggering asthma, damaging lung development, and as revealed on Clean Air Day 2020, it can even affect their ability to learn.  


This year’s Clean Air Day theme “protect our children’s health from air pollution” further highlights the urgency to safeguard our children’s health after 2020 and 2021 saw our children bear the burden of the global pandemic, compromising their freedom, education and mental wellbeing.  


Dr Maria Neira, Director at the WHO says: “These figures are unequivocally too high and harming children’s health. Schools should be safe places of learning, not places where students are at risk of health hazards. There is no safe level of air pollution, and if we care about our children and their future, air pollution limits should reflect WHO guidelines.” 


Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan says: The fact that 27% of UK schools are above WHO air pollution limits is extremely alarming. Air pollution is not a fact of life. If we all do our bit, it can be solved with collaborative action and education.


We have seen the power of Clean Air Day to unite a movement, to bring confidence to talk about the importance of tackling air pollution even in trying times, and to push for change, but it can’t stop there. Tools like the Clean Air for Schools Framework are available for free to help any school set up a clean air action plan, but schools cannot do this alone. If we all come together - individuals, schools, businesses, local authorities across the UK to collectively act and seize this moment we can create and support change, for good. 

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