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Investigating the air quality surrounding new schools in England: polluted playgrounds and school buildings are a source of avoidable harm
  1. Yasmin Mahfouz1,
  2. Florence Tydeman2,
  3. Meredith Robertson1
  1. 1 Evelina London Children's Hospital, London, UK
  2. 2 King's College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Florence Tydeman, King's College London, London, UK; florence.tydeman{at}


Objective To assess levels of pollutants at the sites of new schools and whether pupils are likely to be protected from associated risks.

Setting Air pollution causes damage to children’s health by increasing respiratory tract infection rates, asthma exacerbations, allergies and childhood cancers. Further effects include poorer neurocognitive outcomes and multisystemic illness in adulthood.

Design We obtained a list of all 187 proposed new schools in England from 2017 to 2025 and found locations for 147 of them. We assessed air quality against WHO air quality targets and the air quality percentile of the location relative to pollution levels across the UK. We review relevant legislation and guidance.

Results Our analysis found 86% of new schools (126/147) exceeded all three WHO targets, and every location exceeded at least one. Nationally, 76% (112/147) of sites were in the 60th or greater pollution percentile. Within London, the median pollution percentile was the 90th, with a minimum of 76th and maximum of 99th (IQR=83 rd to 94th).

Conclusion The guidance for school proposals does not include any requirement to assess air quality at the identified site. Building regulations also fail to consider how widespread poor air quality is, and significantly underestimates the levels of major air pollutants surrounding schools. Therefore it is unlikely that adequate action to reduce pupil and staff exposure is undertaken.

We argue that air quality assessment should be mandatory at the proposal and planning stage of any new school building and that national guidance and legislation urgently needs to be updated.

  • Paediatrics
  • Child Health
  • Child Welfare

Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository.

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Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository.

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  • Contributors FT, YM, MR conducted data acquisition, data analysis and manuscript preparation. MR is guarantor.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.