How bad is our air? Kate Calvert, Neel Dhruv, Joanna Laurson and Neerja Vasishta report

The EU is now suing London for failing to do anything like enough to tackle the problem of air pollution. There’s good reason for that. While the World Health Organisation has designated outdoor air pollution a Class one carcinogen, if you live next to a busy road you’ll see an average reduction of your life of 10 years. In London it’s calculated to result in 4,000 deaths a year, just like the smogs of the ‘50s.At the other end of your life, air pollution means children who grow up with it suffer problems like a permanent reductionin lung capacity.
So the TPPSG decided to put some of our funds towards testing the air in our area, and we didn’t just decide to measure air quality, we decided to focus on where it is affecting children.

The easiest way to do a quick check of air quality is to spend £10 on a nitrogen dioxide tube from a company called Gradko. Included in the price is the lab analysis of the tube and then you can post the results on www.communitymaps.org.uk where you can compare the results with others across London, and also see which points exceed the permitted EU limits.
First we decided that the standard measuring height of 2 metres or above wasn’t really giving a picture of the air at buggy height so we decided to put out two tubes at every location, one at around 2 metres and another at toddler height.

To decide the locations Neerja tracked all nurseries and primary schools within the TPPSG boundary. Then together with Kate she identified 35 key routes and stopping places for children travelling to and from those schools and nurseries. While the official advice is to take children on less trafficked routes, in most cases that just isn’t possible, you have to walk some way on one or more busy roads. Neerja then walked them all to check for suitability and we ended up with 35 locations. Then when we received the tubes Neel had ordered, teams of helpers went out and attached them to lampposts at the designated spots.

Next came the tricky bit – the lower tubes started to disappear. Neel checked with Gradko who confirmed that results would be meaningful after just a fortnight so we did a sweep and managed to retrieve six lower tubes from the 35 sites. A fortnight later we did a collection of all the upper tubes (a couple of those had also been taken), and sent those too off to Gradko for analysis.

The results are below [insert plan taken from the communitymaps site). Neel and Joanna, the two scientists on the team, both agreed, the data is very ‘noisy’. They have liaised with experts a Kings College who have adjusted the results to produce an annual reading. As scientists they would want more data before drawing any firm conclusions but broadly it seems:
– Any road with significant levels of traffic shows pollution above EU limits – that includes Tufnell Park Road, Junction Road, Fortess Road and Dartmouth Park Hill.
– The most polluted roads are not always those with the heaviest traffic but those where the pollution is trapped because the road is narrow and/or there are buildings or walls on either side – pollution at the top end of Dartmouth Park Hill for example is bad.
– Trees and open space seem to help – outside the Archway Early Years Nursery on Vorley Road, despite the buses, the pollution is not as bad as on Junction Road.
– Some roads although wide, still see really bad pollution – Parkhurst Road is an example, making it somewhere you should try not to walk.
The key cause of air pollution is traffic, and of that 90% comes from diesel vehicles, so there needs to be action on diesel. However, there are some smaller actions which would make a difference so we have written to the candidates in the local elections to ask them to commit to:
1. Enforcing policy against engine idling, particularly outside schools.
2. Introducing more planting, particularly around schools and in school playgrounds, in order to mitigate the effects of pollution.
3. Creating safer cycling and walking routes to all schools and nurseries

We think those three steps could do a lot towards reducing the damage being suffered by our children.