Publication date: 4th April 2017

More than 1,000 nurseries in England are within 150m of roads that break legal limits for air pollution, according to a major new investigation published today.

While the majority of nurseries close to polluted roads are in London, an analysis, by Greenpeace’s investigations unit, of official government data shows the problem stretches far beyond the capital to towns and cities all over England. [1]

Outside of London, the top 10 local authority areas most affected are: Birmingham, Sandwell, Nottingham, Plymouth, Manchester, Leicester, Hampshire, Leeds, Wolverhampton and Salford. In London, there are more than 750 nurseries within 150m of an air pollution hotspot, while more than 20 nurseries are close to a road where nitrogen dioxide levels are double the legal limit. See the regional and local breakdown (two tabs).

The findings come just days before the government is expected to publish a revised plan to tackle air pollution after the previous one was deemed inadequate by the High Court.

The Greenpeace investigation is the first analysis of nurseries’ proximity to pollution hotspots to include cities outside London, and the first anywhere in the UK to include privately run nurseries. The researchers took the government’s data on roadside air pollution and overlaid it with the geo-coordinates of nurseries obtained from Ofsted and Department of Education databases. The result is a searchable map showing which nurseries are close to illegally polluted roads. [2]

Scientific studies show high exposure to polluted air at a young age can cause chronic health problems that last a lifetime. In young children, air pollution can cause asthma and stunt lung growth by up to 10%.

Greenpeace is calling for the car industry to ditch diesel, and switch to electric, and for government to support urgent transformation on our roads away from diesel and towards hybrid and electric vehicles. Environmental campaigners have urged ministers to help drivers switch to cleaner cars through a national diesel scrappage scheme and investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Anna Jones, clean air campaigner, Greenpeace, said: “Most people don’t realise that all across the country, toddlers are being exposed to invisible air pollution caused by diesel vehicles. At such a young age, children are extremely vulnerable to its effects, and it can cause long-lasting health impacts and reduced lung function.

“We were told diesel cars were the cleaner choice, but car makers lied about how much pollution they emit. That deception has left our kids exposed to toxic air pollution that’s causing widespread chronic health problems.”

Chris Griffiths, professor of primary care at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry and co-director of the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research, said: “The research is largely consistent across studies in the U.S., Europe, and also in London, that traffic fume exposure is associated with stunted lung development in young children.”

He added: “This is important because air pollution is affecting lung development of children in nurseries in cities and towns across England. It’s a national problem.

“Although Greenpeace’s investigation relates to the EU annual legal limit for NO2 pollution there isn’t an accepted safe level. So even toddlers in nurseries where the exposure levels are lower will also be at risk of damage to lung growth.”

Professor Jonathan Grigg, an expert in air pollution and children’s health at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Since emissions from heavily used roads in the UK are unacceptably high, it comes as no surprise that young children in nurseries near to main roads are being exposed to high concentrations of pollution, especially when they are outdoors. We urgently need to reduce emissions, and the first target must be our ageing diesel fleet.”

Diesel vehicles are responsible for 90% of the poisonous nitrogen oxides (NOx) coming from roads [3].

Following the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal that rocked the car industry in 2015, it’s come to light that car companies have been knowingly breaking air pollution standards.

Despite some moves to alter testing regulations and ‘fix’ some of the cars, two-thirds of the newest EURO 6 diesel cars still aren’t meeting emissions standards in real world conditions. And some new diesel cars emit 15 times more toxic pollution than they are supposed to.

Anna continued:What’s clear is that moving nurseries is not the solution. Avoiding dangerous air pollution just isn’t an option if you live in an urban area. People also live near these roads, and have to use them to get around. The only way to make our communities safe is to tackle air pollution head on.

“To fix this problem we need wholesale transformation on our roads away from diesel and towards hybrid and electric vehicles. Both the government and the car companies need to work urgently to fix this.

The government has been ordered by the High Court to look again at its plans to tackle air pollution, in part because its modelling of the scale of the problem was too optimistic and didn’t take into account real world emissions from cars exceeding pollution limits. It has a deadline of 24 April 2017 to publish its new plan and revised modelling.


Contact: Ellen Booth

Notes to editors:

[1] ABOUT THE ANALYSIS: To identify stretches of road where annual average concentrations of Nitrogen Dioxide breach legal limits, Greenpeace took the latest available “roadside” data from DEFRA’s Pollution Climate Mapping Model (PCM). This data is for 2015, and was published in late 2016. (You can view the data here by selecting “Roadside”, “Nitrogen Dioxide annual mean”, and “2015” from the dropdown menus).The PCM model is used by the UK government to help assess the country’s compliance with EU legal limits on air pollutants. It calculates pollution levels to within 4m of kerbside. It does not model pollution levels on every metre of road in the country, only on the approximately 9,000 road links that are A roads or motorways within “urban areas”. Greenpeace then mapped the roadside NO2 data alongside the geocoded addresses of tens of thousands of Ofsted-registered schools, nurseries, and other non-domestic providers of education or childcare. These addresses were taken from two datasets: the Department for Education’s edubase database and Ofsted’s early years dataset. We then ran an analysis to find which of these providers were within 150m of a road breaching legal limits for NO2, according to the government modelling. We then manually checked the locations of all providers that were found to be within 150m of a relevant road, to make sure the coordinates were correct. All of the 1,017 nurseries that we found to be within 150m of a breaching road are either defined as Local Authority Nursery Schools in the Edubase dataset, or are on the Early Years Register – the compulsory register for providers of childcare for 0-5 year olds.

[2] Greenpeace’s map shows all educational institutions found to be within 150m of a road breaching the legal NO2 limit. In total there are 2,092 of these institutions, including schools, colleges, higher education institutions and Ofsted-registered childcare providers. Of that total, 1,014 are nurseries.

[3] Analysis of statistics from DEFRA. Of total road transport, diesel cars account for 41% of total NOx, heavy duty diesel vehicles and buses 29%, and light duty diesel vehicles 20% = total for diesel vehicles of 90%. Source: DEFRA