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‘No idling zones’ should be enforced outside schools and hospitals to cut air pollution.

29th Mar 2019

Poor air quality is being blamed for a significant number of deaths in the UK. Air pollution was thought to have caused 64,000 deaths in the UK in 2015, including 17,000 fatal cases of heart and artery disease and more than 29,000 other British deaths linked to air pollution were due to a range of conditions such as cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease. Public Health England (PHE) has described air pollution as the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK.

In a bid to tackle the problem PHE is proposing a range of measures to try and reduce pollution and protect people’s health. The report said local authorities could implement no-idling zones for cars in areas with vulnerable hotspots such as schools, hospitals and care homes. It also recommends a wider uptake of low emission or clean air zones to discourage the most highly polluting vehicles from entering populated areas.

The proposal to ban cars idling outside school gates is seen as a key area to cut air pollution around schools and protect children’s health. PHE says there is strong evidence that air pollution causes the development of coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer, and exacerbates asthma. Anyone who has been at or near a school at drop off or pick up time would be familiar with the numbers of cars waiting in a small radius around the school often with the engines running. The collective exhaust fumes from these cars will all contribute to increasing pollution levels around the school. Although some modern cars do have engines that will cut out when the car is stationary, engines should be switched off while the car is stationary for a significant period of time.

Car exhausts pump out fine sooty particles and nitrogen oxides, which significantly contribute to poor air quality. Diesel cars, in particular, are major producers of nitrogen dioxide and small particulates that contribute to respiratory diseases. These can contain heavy metals and other fuel chemicals which lodge in the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

In March 2016 a study was conducted by the Mayor of London’s office to see the effects on air quality of imposing an anti-idling policy at two separate locations. The results were compared with measurements taken on other days when anti-idling was not imposed. At one site, a primary school in Wandsworth, they found levels of black carbon, which is associated with car exhausts, were 36% lower after the anti-idling action days. This shows that such campaigns could improve air quality around schools and help to improve the environment that children live in. Local authorities in the UK already have the power to issue fixed penalty notices to motorists in parked vehicles who refuse to turn off their engines when asked, and some councils are setting up no idling zones with fixed penalty fines for those found to be sitting in cars with the engine running.

Investing in newer technologies and less polluting cars is also another way forward in cutting air pollution and also features in the list of proposals by PHE. In the meantime, we should all be mindful when we drive our cars; walk if possible as it’s not just better for your health but for everyone else too and turn your engine off if you will be stationary for a while.

On March 11, PHE published a review of evidence designed to inform local and national governments on actions to improve outdoor air quality and health.

Their recommendations include: Implementing no-idling zones in areas with ‘vulnerable hotspots’ such as schools, hospitals and care homes; redesigning cities to keep people further away from highly polluting roads by, for example, designing wider streets or using hedges to screen against pollutants; investing more in clean public transport as well as foot and cycle paths; encouraging uptake of low emission vehicles by setting more ambitious targets for installing electric car charging points; discouraging highly polluting vehicles from entering populated areas with incentives such as low emission or clean air zones.

To tackle air pollution PHE measure is among a series of UK-wide recommendations put forward. PHE said 28,000 to 36,000 deaths a year in the UK could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.

The report said local authorities could implement no-idling zones in areas with vulnerable hotspots such as schools, hospitals and care homes.

Although England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales lead on air quality policy in their own territories, PHE contributes to the implementation of the Government’s UK-wide strategy.

Rachel Kayani

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