Mayor launches air quality monitoring backpacks trial

19 March 2019

• World’s largest-ever study of its kind will monitor air quality exposure of 250 children on their way to school and in the classroom

• City Hall, King’s College, London and Dyson cooperate on state-of-the-art wearable technology

• Latest component of the Breathe London project, the most comprehensive city-wide network of air quality monitors of its kind in the world, devised by City Hall and C40 Cities

• Launch comes less than 3 weeks before start of the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London

Primary school pupils will carry special backpacks with state-of-the-art air quality sensors on their journey to and from school to help monitor the levels of toxic air young Londoners are exposed to, in a new scheme launched today by the Mayor Sadiq Khan.

250 pupils from five London primary schools in Southwark, Richmond, Greenwich, Haringey and Hammersmith and Fulham will take part in the project, wearing specially adapted backpacks to and from school for a week.

Weighing just over 1kg, the sensors fit into lightweight bags and measure particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels. The children will use the backpacks like a normal bag (the monitor takes up one pocket, leaving plenty of room for school equipment), allowing the monitors to record pollutant levels on each child’s journey to school and throughout the school day.

The data from this study will allow King’s scientists to analyse at which point of their journey to school (or which part of their school day) children are exposed to the most pollution. They will also be able to the compare the exposure of children who have similar journeys but take different routes and travel modes and then make recommendations of how children can reduce their exposure in future.

The wearable sensors are the latest stage of the Breathe London project to create the most comprehensive air quality monitoring network of its kind in the world. Breathe London, which includes more than 100 fixed monitors and the deployment of air quality monitoring cars on the streets of London, is being delivered by a consortium led by Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE) and mostly funded by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).
The project itself was devised by City Hall and C40 Cities – the leading global alliance of cities committed to addressing climate change. Once this approach and technology has been proven in London, the goal is to see it introduced in cities around the world. London is a lead city, alongside Bengalaru, of the C40 Air Quality Network announced during the Mayor’s visit to India in December 2017.

Sadiq launched the project this morning at Haimo Primary School in Greenwich, one of five schools at which the backpacks will be used. As well as hosting one of the new Breathe London fixed monitors, Haimo was also one of 50 schools involved in the Mayor’s air quality audits programme last year.
The school has already started implementing recommendations to improve air quality by providing Walking Route Maps and delivering energy efficiency measures to reduce the school’s air quality footprint. The Royal Borough of Greenwich has turned the road outside the school into a ‘school street’, closing it to traffic at the start and end of the day. This has led to a 35 per cent reduction in parents driving children to school, a 33 per cent increase in scooting and an 11 per cent increase in walking.

The launch of the backpack sensors comes less than three weeks before the Mayor introduces the world’s first 24 hours-a-day Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London. Drivers of the most polluting cars, vans and motorcycles will be required to pay £12.50 (£100 for busses, coaches and lorries)to enter the ULEZ, which will operate in the area currently covered by the Congestion Charge. It is predicted the ULEZ could cut harmful emissions in central London by up to 45 per cent.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “It remains a shameful fact that London's toxic air is harming the lung growth and health of our young children, and we are determined to do everything in our power to protect them.

“An issue this large and complex requires bold and innovative action to protect future generations and ensure our children breathe cleaner, healthier air. I’m proud that we’re able to launch world-leading studies like this which will help us find new ways to reduce children’s exposure to toxic air.

“I hope the success of this scheme will act as a blueprint for cities around the world as they battle their own toxic air emergencies.”

Kate Barnes, Head teacher at Haimo Primary School said: “Haimo children work hard to promote and campaign for changes that support a healthy lifestyle for themselves, our community and beyond. They are aware of the dangers of air pollution and how action is needed and have successfully campaigned for Haimo Road to be closed both at the start and end of the school day. Our focus on air quality has developed their understanding of social responsibility, not only for themselves, but for future generations.

“We intend to use our grant money to implement further projects for our children to lead on. This includes creating a green space and purchasing bike sheds. Our children will develop the skills and knowledge that will provide them with opportunities throughout their lives to take on active roles and be inspired to become leaders of the future.

“Haimo children are very excited to be taking part in the Breathe London Wearable Study and believe that this is a great way to audit the air quality and further develop the engagement and responsibility of the youngest members of our society.”

Dr Ben Barratt, King’s College London, said: “Air pollution has been found to restrict lung growth in children. Low lung function in childhood can persist into adulthood and is often associated with other health problems including chronic obstructive lung disease in later life.

“Analysing the impact of air pollution and providing information to our local, national and international communities is a core component of King’s civic responsibility. By monitoring the air that children breathe on the journey to and from school, we will gain a better understanding of which pollutants are the most harmful and where they are coming from, helping us to support effective improvements in public health.”

Danny Thorpe, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “I was a primary school teacher before becoming Leader of the Council, so I know how worried parents are about air quality and road safety.

“Even though most children live within walking distance of their school, the roads are still choked with cars every morning and afternoon, which is dangerous for everyone. We’ve made a start by closing the road outside this and other primary schools at pick up and drop off times, but we want to protect children from pollution along their entire route and encourage them to walk, cycle or scoot more.

“Greenwich has the largest air quality monitoring network of all the London boroughs, but it doesn’t cover all the residential streets that children use on their way to school. Getting good quality data from projects like this will help us make the case for taking even more action to reduce the number of cars on our streets and clean up our air.”

The new sensors have been developed by Dyson engineers in cooperation with King’s College London as part of the Mayor’s Breathe London project – launched in January.

Jessica Le Dinh, Category Intelligence Engineer, Dyson, said: “Our engineers have been researching clean air technologies for over two decades. Our team of experts applied their leading knowledge to develop intelligent sensors, compact enough to fit in children’s backpacks. They use our unique algorithm to process detailed reports about London’s air pollution.

“Children can take up to 30,000 breaths a day. Their lungs are still developing, which makes them vulnerable to air pollution. City air can contain potentially harmful pollutants – including nitrogen dioxide and soot-based particulate matter. That’s why this study is so vital. It will help us monitor exactly what our children are exposed to, to inform effective solutions.”

Notes to editors

Breathe London is the first initiative from the C40 Air Quality Network announced during Sadiq Khan’s visit to India in December 2017. The network is jointly chaired by London and Bengalaru.

More information about Breathe London and a map of the air quality monitoring network can be found at:

Breathe London brings together some of the UK’s top health and scientific experts with leading technology companies and Environmental Defense Fund. Together, Breathe London partners have expertise in air quality measurement, technology design, atmospheric modelling, and civic engagement. They include Air Monitors Ltd., Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants, University of Cambridge and National Physical Laboratory. The project is funded by the Clean Air Fund at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and managed by C40 cities.

The world’s first ULEZ will come into effect in the current central London Congestion Charge Zone on 8th April 2019 and will replace the current Toxicity Charge. Vehicles will need to meet new, tighter exhaust emission standards or pay a daily charge (£12.50 for cars, vans and motorcycles, £100 for busses, coaches and lorries) to travel within the zone. The Congestion Charge will be unchanged by the introduction of ULEZ and will continue to apply for all eligible vehicles entering the Congestion Charge zone.

Drivers can use TFL’s simple online checking tool to see if their vehicle will meet ULEZ’s tough, new emissions standards.

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