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Why we need to protect children from air pollution in schools, as well as COVID-19

by Hannah Battram, Senior Manager, Clean Air for Children

4 min read




There has been a lot in the media recently about the Department for Education supplying CO2 monitors to schools across the UK, in an effort to improve ventilation and combat the spread of COVID-19. 


Whilst children are one of the groups most affected by air pollution, they are not amongst those most vulnerable to COVID-19. The benefits of ventilating classrooms and protecting children, staff and those they come into contact with is of course a very welcomed move. However, it also provides a huge opportunity to think about the benefits of ventilation in a more holistic way to tackle air pollution in schools, as well as COVID-19.


Children are particularly at risk from air pollution, especially as their immune systems, lungs and brains are still developing. It affects their physical health, their ability to learn and we now also have evidence that air pollution has caused the death of a child. Yet many children in the UK are still at risk as 27% of UK schools are exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution.


Studies from the World Health Organisation have shown that levels of indoor air pollution can often be significantly higher than outdoors due to the release of gases and volatile compounds from furnishings, particulates from cleaning products, arts and craft materials, and other sources.  These are all compounded by poor ventilation. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s study also highlights the link between indoor air pollution and serious health conditions in children such as cancer, asthma and cardiovascular diseases.


Air pollution and poor ventilation have even been shown to affect children’s ability to learn, and can lead to lower attainment and higher absence rates in schools.


The Clean Air for Schools Framework is a great way to get started and it’s free. This online tool is designed to help schools create a tailored clean air action plan to tackle air pollution in and around the school. Similarly, the Action for Clean Air website offers a range of free practical tools to help schools take action, with educational resources as well as information on how air pollution affects children’s health.


We have a fantastic opportunity to think about ventilation in a more holistic way, to safeguard children from air pollution now, as well as COVID-19. Let’s use it, to help them achieve their best life chances, ensure this generation is healthy and the environment they live in is protected. 


Action for Clean Air

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