Parent could sue London town halls for personal injury to their children for harm caused by toxic air at school, lawyers said today.
They stressed that the longer the Government takes to meet EU limits on air pollution, the more likely it was that cases could succeed which could lead to pay-outs running into tens of thousands of pounds.
Andrew Wiseman, a partner at specialist environmental lawyer Harrison Grant, told the Standard: “It may be possible that a claim brought by parents on the impact of air pollution on their children’s health while at school could succeed.”
Campaigners say more than 1,000 schools in the capital are within 150 metres of busy roads, carrying at least 10,000 vehicles per day. Living near roads with such heavy traffic levels could increase the risk of children developing breathing and heart problems, according to scientists.
Mr Wiseman said to win a court case for compensation for pupils harmed by pollution at school would be “difficult but not impossible”. A causal link would have to be proved between the child’s ill-health and dirty air.
The town hall, the school itself and the Government could all be sued for not safeguarding pupils from nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution, partly blamed on vehicles emitting diesel fumes.
Emma Montlake, legal officer for London-based charity the Environmental Law Foundation, said: “There could be some justification for saying that local authorities are failing in their duty of care to local schoolchildren.”
The Government has already been ordered by the Supreme Court to draw up a new plan by the end of the year for Britain to meet EU limits on NO2.
Ministers have been made to act after losing the high-profile court case brought by activist environmental lawyers ClientEarth.
London-based charity Global Action Plan is calling for schools and hospitals to be able to declare “local clean air zones” around their premises. Its managing partner Andy Deacon said: “Schools are on the frontline of London’s fight against air pollution.”