Bid to boost air quality at school home-time

Headteacher Stephen Tapley and Cllr Mervyn Head with pupils from William Alvey school
Headteacher Stephen Tapley and Cllr Mervyn Head with pupils from William Alvey school

Parents waiting to collect children will be reminded to stop idling in their cars in a bid to boost children’s health and protect the environment, through a project with North Kesteven District Council and William Alvey school in Sleaford.

The Council has provided the school with learning resources about the impact of cars idling on air quality, along with leaflets and branded air fresheners to serve as a constant reminder in parents’ cars.

North Kesteven District Council plans to roll out this work to other schools and communities in a bid to improve air quality for all young people in the District.

Children at the William Alvey primary school were instantly enthused about the project and eager to share their new-found knowledge with their families at home-time.

This latest initiative accompanies ongoing monitoring at the school, with a special solar-powered ‘Zephyr’ air quality monitoring station having been installed outside the school in July 2022.

The data produced from this station shows that the air quality is at its best during school holidays, and at its worst at home-time when many parents collect their children in their cars.

Executive Member with Special Responsibility for Environmental and Public Protection Councillor Mervyn Head, present at the handover of the materials, said: “It’s great to be working with William Alvey school on this issue, as it’s such a vital concern, and something that everyone can easily do something about.

“We’d like to see air quality improve throughout the District but it’s a particular concern around schools because of the impact it can have on children and the high concentration of drivers at peak times.

“Everyone can make a difference by switching off their engines when they’re waiting, such as at level crossings or when picking someone up. It reduces pollution but will also save you money. So, as the air fresheners we’re sharing today say: Be Smart, Stop – Start.”

Headteacher at William Alvey school Stephen Tapley said: “We’re pleased to be working with NKDC to raise awareness about this issue because we know that the gases coming from cars are causing real harm to children. The air quality statistics from the monitoring station show it’s good here at weekends and in holidays, but not in term-time.

“Where people are waiting in their cars nearby, we’re really keen that parents simply turn their engine off. It’s about improving the air breathed by our children at the school.

“We’d also encourage families to consider alternative transport – scooters, walking, cycling, car-sharing or coming on the bus, or joining one of our walking buses.”

Idling vehicles emit more pollutants than stopping and starting the engine, as the idling engine burns fuel less efficiently. Substances emitted include oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter such as PM2.5 which are small enough to pass into the bloodstream and organs. Carbon dioxide is also released which is a significant greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.

Exposure to these emissions can cause wide-ranging health issues such as breathing problems (including provoking asthma attacks), COPD, coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, low birth weight, diabetes and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's.

It is especially important not to idle near schools because research shows that exposing children to high levels of air pollution can stunt lung growth, as well as causing behavioural and mental health problems.

While there are many factors that influence air quality, cars idling is a cause that can be tackled by simple changes in driving habits.

Previous air quality projects include an awareness-raising poster competition which several local schools entered, with the winning designs printed up and displayed outside schools around North Kesteven.

The Council’s Environmental Health Services produces a yearly air quality monitoring report in line with government guidance and the overall air quality in the District is deemed good. The report which can be viewed on the Council website summarises data from 22 sites throughout the North Kesteven area and although all sites meet the government Air Quality Standards and Objectives on average, with no exceedances of the NO2 annual mean objective being recorded in the last five years, hotspots in areas where cars idle are still evident.

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