Pollution sensors have been installed outside 22 Newcastle schools to discover just how dirty the city’s air is for children.
Youngsters are most at risk from the pollution crisis on Tyneside, with emissions from road traffic linked to problems with brain development, stunted growth, respiratory conditions, cancer, and 300,000 child deaths worldwide.
Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council have now placed monitors outside a number of schools close to busy roads throughout the city to give an accurate picture of the number of harmful gases in the air children breathe.
Early data has shown readings of nitrogen dioxide of more than twice the annual average legal limit outside several schools at 9am, including Broadway East First School and Cragside Primary.
It is hoped that giving families a full understanding of the health risks of air pollution will encourage more parents not to take their car on the school run or leave the engine running outside school gates, while also providing climate-conscious youngsters a chance to take action.
Eugene Milne, director of public health at Newcastle City Council, said: “Poor air quality harms everybody’s health – and young people are among those most at risk – so we’re very pleased to be working with the university and young people across the city to address this.
“As well as raising awareness about the issue among pupils, parents and the wider community, the project will also aim to encourage more active travel and fewer car journeys, particularly on the school run.
“This project will help us to monitor just how much pollution is in the air around schools and enable us to get the views of the children who are directly affected on what else could be done to tackle the problem.”
The sensors, monitored through the university’s Urban Observatory, will show how levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter change depending on time of day, season, temperature and the weather.
Sean Peacock, of Newcastle University’s Open Lab, said: “Children themselves are far from oblivious to the impact air pollution is having on their health and their futures.
“The school climate strikes show that young people are forcing air pollution and the climate crisis to the top of the political agenda.
“The strikes tell us that children demand a platform to challenge pollution in their environment but, unable to voice their concerns in school, they are forced to take radical action.
"What if instead there was a way to work with children in tackling air pollution and climate change?”
Council bosses in Newcastle are planning to impose a ‘Clean Air Zone’ from 2021 to charge some high-polluting vehicles up to £50 per day to drive into the city centre. A public consultation on those plans is now into its final week.