Toxic air app leads to ‘ditch cars’ plea from parents

Campaign group says pollution levels breach WHO guidelines more than 10 days every month

Friday, 7th January — By Charlotte Chambers

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Lucy Facer and her son, Otis

PARENTS have called for drivers to ditch their cars after a toxic air app revealed how bad the pollution in the streets is.

Large swathes of the borough have more than 10 days every month where the air quality breaches World Heath Organisation recommendations.

Families have been checking the scores for particulates around schools on the iPhone’s Breezometer app and finding most have several days where the streets immediately outside break the suggested limits.

Lucy Facer, of Islington Clean Air Parents, a campaign group calling for a total rethink on the use of cars in London, said at times it felt like the only option as a parent was to move out of London when she saw the potential harm being done to her children every day, just by living here.

“Are we saying all families need to move out of London because of air pollution or are we saying no we’re going to reduce the traffic?,” she said. “It’s not as simple as just leaving – we’re already here, we moved to a house, and then we became aware when our son got asthma. I do think we should move but since we can’t I’ve made other changes such as giving up our car and learning to cycle.”

Ms Facer, who lives in Holloway with her husband and two children, added that she wants to see a green revolution where headteachers and parents join together to find ways to reduce pollution.

Ian Mudway, a senior lecturer in environmental research at Imperial College London who specialises in respiratory and neurological toxicology, said: “Knowing that we have a problem with air pollution in London isn’t new. What has emerged in the last few years is the knowledge that the seeds in adulthood can be sewn in childhood. You may be harming your children’s life chances and health as they age, by living in polluted areas.”

The warning came as Islington Council extends its School Streets programme to two more schools in the borough – but is facing hurdles, as it cannot close off nearby main roads.

Carly Ashdown, who lives with her seven-year-old son near to Canonbury School – where pollution hit danger levels more than one in every three days last month – called the new figures “very concerning”.

She described the continuation of heavy car use in London as “purposeful ignorance” and said we cannot claim to be “naïve” to the dangers any more. She said wanted to see a “revolutionary response” where people could come together to tackle the pollution but admitted it would carry on being “an uphill battle” until the authorities made drastic changes.

Ms Ashdown, 42, said: “It’s a slow progression towards ill health – it’s hard to get the heads to notice this creeping darkness.”

Ms Facer, whose four-year-old boy has asthma, asked: “What’s more important – children breathing clean air and being healthy or people driving their cars because it’s a more comfortable journey that way? We’ve got to interrupt that thought process by making it easier for people to walk or cycle or get public transport.”

Canonbury and Ambler Primary School in Blackstock Road are both currently asking parents for their thoughts on the new proposals to widen pavements and introduce some seating areas and greenery.

Juliet Benis, headteacher at Ambler, said she welcomed the council’s ideas and looked forward to seeing the changes.
Canonbury headteacher Patrick Mildren did not want to comment on the consultation. In the past he has complained about pollution from nearby Highbury Corner, even closing down parts of the playground because of it.

The consultation for Schools Streets ends on January 16.

Cllr Rowena Champion, Islington’s executive mem­ber for environment and transport, said: “We’ve brought in school streets to help make school gates safer and healthier, and we’re creating people-friendly streets to help improve air quality and encourage more walking and cycling.

“We were the first borough to start pollution monitoring outside all schools and are committed to further action on air quality. But we can’t tackle this issue alone.

“We strongly support more London-wide action – like the recent expansion of ULEZ [the Ultra Low Emission Zone] – and urgently call for central government to do more to help clean up London’s toxic air.”

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