Study shows damage to lungs of Tower Hamlets school children caused by diesel pollution

A new study published in The Lancet Public Health indicates that the lung capacity of Tower Hamlets school age children could be reduced by up to 5% as a result of exposure to diesel vehicle pollution with significant health implications for later life.

Woolmore Primary School overlooks the A102 Blackwall Tunnel approach road
Woolmore Primary School overlooks the A102 Blackwall Tunnel approach road

Five year study

The aim of the study between 2009 and 2014 was to find out if charges on polluting diesel lorries had any beneficial effect on health.

Although overall air pollution in London was reduced with the introduction of the London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) there was no reduction in the harm to children’s lungs.

Study timeline and annual NO2 models
Study timeline and annual NO2 models

Focus on schools close to major roads

The study involved children from 28 primary schools in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Greenwich, and the City of London, with a focus on schools close to air quality monitoring stations to maximise the accuracy of exposure data, all within less than 500 m from major roads.

Information about the study was sent home in school bags with each child, along with a consent form and a questionnaire for parents to complete and return to the school. 2,000 children took part.

The study found that Within London’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ), a smaller lung volume in children was associated with higher annual air pollutant exposures.

Impaired lung development during childhood

Lung capacity peaks at age 18 and reduced lung development in childhood has consequences that carry through into adulthood.

If children have suffered reduced lung development they are at great risk of disease in adulthood and are more likely to die early.

No evidence of a reduction in the proportion of children with small lungs over the 2009 and 2014 period was found, despite small improvements in air quality in highly polluted urban areas during the implementation of London’s LEZ.

The authors believe that interventions that deliver much larger reductions in emissions might yield improvements in children’s health.

LW Comment

London Dock school

The implications of this study will be worrying for any parents of children living in London, especially Wapping parents as the proposed location of the London Dock school is within three metres of The Highway. This even closer to a main road than Woolmore Primary School in Blackwall (pictured).

The decision to allocate this site for a school now needs to be formally challenged.

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