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The health of Bristol’s children at risk as pupils return to school

As the first full week of the new term begins, thousands of Bristol’s children are having their health put at risk due to high levels of air pollution in the city according to council data highlighted by Bristol’s Green councillors. According to data recorded by the City Council, large areas of Bristol experience levels of air pollution above the legal and safe European limits. These include the sites of numerous primary schools around the city centre and near major roads such as the M32 and A38.


Bristol, despite being one of a number of cities which is breaching safety limits for air pollutants, is not on the government’s list of cities to get Clean Air Zones by 2020.


Green Party campaigners and parents are particularly concerned that even the worrying figures published do not reflect the true health costs to children, as they represent yearly averages rather than peak times, when many children are on their way to school


Ella Bissett Macewen, who is a parent at Dolphin School said:


“The air pollution in Stokes Croft and the centre of Bristol is always really bad, my youngest child is prone to chest and breathing problems and has found it difficult doing the school run with his big sister. We travel across the city every day for school (from Windmill Hill to Cheltenham Road). We use public transport and the majority of the time we take the bus as this is the most frequent service. “


“We have noticed over the last two years an increasing problem with the traffic in Bristol city centre. Particularly on the return journey from school the traffic jams can be so bad that the bus journey can take upwards of 40 minutes (normally it takes 20 minutes). The pollution is made much worse by the traffic jams as this means that all of the cars and buses are stationary with their engines on pumping out fumes into the increasingly high-rise urban landscape.”


In Bristol dangerous air pollution leads to nearly 200 deaths every year. The most affected are young children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung conditions such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.

Jerome Thomas, Green Party councillor for Clifton, has been researching the solutions.

“Obviously reducing the amount of motor traffic on the roads is a key way of reducing air pollution, so investing in public transport, cycling and walking is crucial. But we also need stronger action than that – the most polluting vehicles need to be kept out of busy urban areas. That includes phasing out diesel vehicles and establishing a robust Clean Air Zone.”

 Image: Martin Abegglen


Air pollution can affect lung development in babies even before birth, reducing their adult breathing capacity and making them more susceptible to infections.


The autumn also brings an increase in common colds and other respiratory infections and air pollution can make these more severe, causing serious problems for children with asthma in particular.


Passengers in cars may be inhaling even more traffic fumes than pedestrians.

Clean air is fast becoming a major public health issue, but there are ways of tackling the problem.


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