Ban cars from idling near schools, says UK public health agency

Cars queue to collect children outside a primary school in Aberystwyth, Wales

Cars queue to collect children outside a primary school in Aberystwyth, Wales. Photograph: Alamy

Cars should be banned from idling near schools and congestionchargesimposed across the UK as part of measures recommended by the government public health agency.

In a report on Monday, Public Health England (PHE) said up to 36,000 people were dying each year from human-made air pollution.

It also pointed to emerging evidence of air pollution causing dementia, low birth weight and diabetes.

In a 263-page review of the options for improving air quality [pdf] the report calls for on councils to introduce no-idling zones outside schools and hospitals; the imposition of more congestion charges and low emission zones; and the development of a vehicle-charging infrastructure to promote a “step-change” in the uptake of electric cars.

The review favours measures that improve the air quality for as many people as possible, such as the wide implementation of low emission zones, rather than a focus on local pollution hotspots.

It also called for action against the sources of air pollution such as highly polluting vehicles and wood-burning stoves.

Prof Paul Cosford, the director for health protection and medical director of PHE, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m a doctor, I see a figure of 35,000 to 40,000 people each year dying as a result of the harm that is caused by air pollution.”

Calling for more urgency, he said: “If we were having a conversation about 30,000 people dying each year because of a polluted water supply, I think we would have a very different conversation. It would be about: ‘what do we need to do now and how quickly can we do it?’”

Cosford added: “Technologies are available, the things that we need to do we know about, so this is a matter of how we take this issue as seriously as we need to, and how we move the technologies and the planning and all of that into reality so we actually deal with this problem for us and for future generations.”

The review stops short of suggesting banning cars from the school run. Asked about the idea, Cosford said: “I do think that if we consider this to be an issue of future generations, for our children, let’s have a generation of children brought up free from the scourge and the harms of air pollution. And that does then take you to ‘what can we do about making sure schools are at least as clean as possible?’

“We should stop idling outside schools, we should make sure children can walk or cycle to school, and we should make sure that schools work with their parents about how they can do their best for this.”

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