New schools and affordable housing targeted at young families should not be built in areas of London that are “known pollution hotspots”, the London Assembly has been told.
Speaking at a meeting of the assembly’s environment committee on Tuesday, Imperial College London’s Dr Ian Mudway, an expert on air quality, warned that the long-term health risks associated with toxic air pollution should force local authorities to reconsider where they build schools and houses.
The assembly was told evidence from the past decade shows that exposing children to high levels of air pollution is “storing up illness within the population” which will make London more vulnerable to diseases in the future.
While the impact of toxic air on children’s hearts and lungs has been the subject of much discussion in City Hall, Dr Mudway said that there is also a “profound” link between exposure to pollution and the risk of dementia later in life, as well an impact on general mental health.
Dr Mudway said: “Knowing that there’s an association between poor air quality and children’s respiratory health and development across time, what we should absolutely not be doing is building new schools, or building cheap and affordable housing for young families, in areas which are known pollution hotspots within our city.
“I know there are some conflicting and intersecting issues here, but I can think of many examples within London where I see new builds occurring in places which, if you were really concerned about children’s health, you would never be building them there and you certainly wouldn’t be targeting them to young families.”
Analysis published by City Hall last autumn found that 98 per cent of London’s schools were already in areas that exceed World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter pollution.
In the past 20 years, two schools have opened close to the Blackwall Tunnel approach road on the Greenwich Peninsula: Millennium Primary School and St Mary Magdalene.
Last week a member of the Stop the Silvertown Coalition told Greenwich councillors that parents were moving children out of schools in the area because of fears around pollution and the under-construction tunnel, which will share the same approach road.
Mudway, a longstanding critic of the tunnel, said: “I think it’s an error to build anything that is potentially going to induce traffic. This feels to me like a bypass in the middle of the city, serving boroughs in London with the lowest rates of car ownership.
“It also runs through those very boroughs where we found those discoveries about children’s stunted lung development.”
Between eight and 12 children die in London every year from asthma, with research pointing to a correlation between areas with higher levels of pollution and higher rates of asthma.
London mayor Sadiq Khan, who has refused calls to cancel the tunnel,convened a summit of health professionals and government leaders last week to discuss the need to improve public health messaging around air pollution.
Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain
Joe Talora is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority, based at the Evening Standard. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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