Nearly one in four school children in London are being forced to breathe air so filthy that it breaches EU legal limits, a shock report warned today.
In findings which will alarm many parents, it was revealed that 328,000 pupils were at schools where nitrogen dioxide levels were above the annual permitted level.
They included more than 30,000 children in Westminster, 29,000 in Tower Hamlets, 28,800 in Southwark, 26,300 in Camden, 24,000 in Kensington and Chelsea, 23,700 in Lambeth and 20,100 in Hackney.
The authoritative research by Policy Exchange and King’s College London was published as world leaders, Prince Charles and other environmentalists met in Paris for a climate change summit.
Fifty-eight per cent of pupils in inner London boroughs are in schools in areas with harmfully high nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels, according to the report which emphasised the “very clear moral case” for tackling air pollution.
While the problem in outer London is not as bad, tens of thousands of pupils are still breathing toxic air, significantly blamed on diesel fumes, which scientists say will shorten many of their lives.
For Barnet the figure was 5,300, Hounslow 4,400, Enfield 3,200, Kingston 2,400 and Richmond 2,300.
A startling 979 schools out of 3,161 in London, or just over 30 per cent, are over the annual EU limit of an average of 40 micrograms per cubic metre for NO2, with some nearly twice this level. Three of the top 10 worse affected schools were boarding so many pupils would be spending a great deal of time there. The three schools were not named for legal reasons.
Interactive map: The number of school children and workers affected
Scientists say children are more vulnerable than adults to dangerous air pollution, partly as their lungs are less developed. Richard Howard, author of the report, said: “The case for tackling air pollution in London is clear. London’s air is unhealthy to breathe. Children are particularly vulnerable to unsafe levels of air pollution.”
The study measured average NO2 concentration 100 metres around a point in schools’ grounds. For very small schools it may have picked up areas immediately outside but these were included as pupils were likely to have been exposed to this air on their way to school.
Many schools have good air filtration systems inside buildings, particularly modern ones, but pupils are still likely to be at risk from pollution during break time, as they make their way between buildings and on their journeys to and from school.
The study also found that 3.8 million people, or 44 per cent of the workforce, are employed in areas of London with NO2 pollution breaking EU rules.
The worst areas are Westminster, 687,000, Camden, 368,000 and the City, 360,000. In Oxford Street, one of the capital’s pollution blackspots, the average NO2 concentration in the year to August was more than 150 micrograms per cubic metre, nearly four times the legal limit, the report said.
An eighth of the capital, or 292 sq km, suffers from NO2 levels above EU regulations, including more than two thirds of inner London, major roads and around Heathrow, according to the research which analysed data from more than 100 air quality monitoring sites.
In outer London, the air was dirtier in some more deprived communities than affluent neighbourhoods.
The death toll from filthy air in London has been officially put at more than 9,000 a year and was responsible for 3,400 hospital admissions annually.
The report states that if current and planned policies are implemented by the Mayor and Government then the average life expectancy in London could increase by six months.