International ‘Walk To School’ Month Sounds Alarm on Pollution Risk Near Schools

Each year, International Walk to School Month encourages children and parents to forego regular commutes and use non-polluting travel methods instead – such as walking, skating, or cycling. But do the levels of air pollution near schools affect the children’s health? Let’s find out.

One of the aims of this initiative is to draw awareness to air pollution as a significant environmental threat to public health, calling on local governments to implement air quality improvements and control measures to protect the health of school children in particular.

The Problem of air pollution near Schools

The World Health Organization – which also recently updated its air quality guidelines –  states that 90% of the world’s children breathe toxic air pollution on a daily basis. Unfortunately, schools are often built near heavy traffic areas, increasing their pollution exposure risk.

Simply put, air pollution near schools is a widespread problem; reports state poor air quality exposure impacts an estimated 25% of children in the UK alone.

Mounting evidence also shows poor air quality can severely impact younger age groups from toddlers to teenagers: For example,  pollution has been linked to a major increase in doctor visits for childhood asthma, and according to the American Lung Association, children regularly exposed to high levels of air pollution can face an increased risk of reduced lung growth with possibly permanent outcomes.

Studies suggest exposure to poor air quality during the school day may also even put students at a higher risk of cognitive impairment and developmental problems.

Idling Cars & the Air We Breathe

We often think about air pollution released by moving vehicles, but idling cars (think stationary cars with the engines left running) are also a major contributor to air pollution near schools.

According to the US Department of Energy, idling from personal vehicles generates around 30 million tons of CO2 annually. In fact, they estimate idling for over 10 seconds produces more CO2 than turning the car off and on (!)

Car air pollution emissions
Image Source: Idling Action London

Ongoing anti-idling campaigns are attempting to combat this problem: The EPA has created an ‘Idle-free toolkit’ to raise awareness, and even major automotive manufacturers like Renault are launching campaigns to educate about the dangers here.

Can’t Walk to School?

Acknowledging not every family always has an option to walk to school, there are still ways to manage air pollution exposure and promote a healthier environment for our kids – from the perspective of individuals, business and regulation:

  • Pollution Aware Schools  – Governing bodies around the world are taking initiatives to improve classroom ventilation, monitor air pollution near schools more closely, and introduce no-idling policies and education campaigns for students and parents.
  • Limit Car Idling –Avoid stopping with the engine still running and inform others of the health dangers created by idling vehicles.
  • Monitor Air Quality Regularly – Staying on top of dynamic air quality changes can help families manage exposure to pollution. (Some parents are even sneaking air quality monitors into schools to track their child’s pollution exposure – by the way with BreezoMeter’s app, all you need is a phone!)
  • Choosing Cleaner Routes – Opting for less polluted roads can help minimize exposure to poor air quality.
  • Air Quality Aware Vehicles & Greener, Smarter Cars – Automotive companies like Volvo and Tata Motors now integrate personalized environmental insights into their products to help motorists stay protected from in-cabin and outdoor air pollution while on the road.
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Paul Walsh Weather Man
Paul Walsh

Previously at IBM and The Weather Company, I have decades of experience in helping large consumer businesses re-imagine how they systemically leverage weather and climate data in both supply and demand chain systems -- creating integrated enterprise processes that are more responsive and more resilient in the face of increasingly impactful weather conditions. My observations have been featured in the US on The Weather Channel and CNBC, & I've been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and The New York Times. Connect with me!