Eleanor worked with pupils from Dog Kennel Hill School to compare the levels of air pollution on streets around Camberwell and East Dulwich in summer 2014.

Dog Kennel Hill on a day of smog: on a cold still day, air pollution from cars is trapped at ground level
Dog Kennel Hill on a day of smog: on a cold still day, air pollution from cars is trapped at ground level

Dog Kennel Hill School is on a very busy crossroads. It’s one of the 1,148 London schools that are within 150 metres of roads carrying 10,000 or more vehicles per day www.howpollutedismyroad.org.uk/schools.php.

In one hour of the morning rush (between 8 and 9am) 550 vehicles passed the school – in just one direction (November 2011, Transport for London.) And the latest figures, from 2015, show the number of vehicles using the junction has increased by at least 50%.

Eleanor worked with Alison Quemby and her class of 8- and 9-year-olds at Dog Kennel Hill School. They talked about the causes of pollution and how they could compare the air pollution on different routes.

First the children put numbered flags on a large map to show where everyone lived.

Children placed flags to show where they lived in relation to school
Children placed flags to show where they lived in relation to school

Some walk just five or ten minutes to get to school. Others have very long, complicated journeys. One boy usually took three different buses to school, waiting in rush hour traffic at Elephant and Castle and Camberwell Green.

The children also drew maps of their journeys to school, whether by bus or car, on foot or on scooter.

Drawing of a route to school by car. The artist writes: 'I go both ways depending on traffick. I like waving to the lollipop lady. I dislike how the journey is 45 minutes long.'
Drawing of a route to school by car. The artist writes: ‘I go both ways depending on traffick. I like waving to the lollipop lady. I dislike how the journey is 45 minutes long.’

Dr Ben Barratt of King’s College London provided individual monitors to measure levels of black carbon in the air. (See this report about a previous project with personal exposure monitors) The monitors are pocket-sized, with a small intake tube that is clipped to a coat or bag. GPS watches allow the measurements to be linked to a specific place and time.

Pairs of children who lived near each other were given individual air pollution monitors to carry on their usual route to and from school, one going via the main road, one by back streets. Members of the East Dulwich Estate Regeneration Project Team and Southwark Green Party also helped to carry monitors.

Dr Barratt then analysed the data. The results showed that the levels of black carbon recorded on the main roads were much higher than on back roads.

Map showing all the routes measured. Each spot represents a measurement of black carbon. The darker the colour, the higher the level of black carbon in the air.
Map showing all the routes measured. Each spot represents a measurement of black carbon. The darker the colour, the higher the level of black carbon in the air.

There were high levels of black carbon at the junction of Dog Kennel Hill and Champion Hill, as you might expect with so many vehicles struggling up the hill and waiting in queues at the traffic lights. Camberwell Green and Lordship Lane also had high levels of air pollution.

But even a short way off the main roads, levels dropped significantly. By walking down Melbourne Grove instead of Lordship Lane, you avoid buses and trucks.

Map comparing black carbon levels via Melbourne Grove (left) and Grove Vale and Lordship Lane (right)
Map comparing black carbon levels via Melbourne Grove (left) and Grove Vale and Lordship Lane (right)

Another interesting comparison was the twenty-minute walk to one child’s home near Myatt’s Fields. One route was via Champion Hill and Ruskin Park. The other was via Camberwell Green.

It took exactly the same time to walk along the 185 bus route via Camberwell Green and to walk through Ruskin Park. Which would you prefer?
It took exactly the same time to walk along the 185 bus route via Camberwell Green and to walk through Ruskin Park. Which would you prefer?

King’s College London described the findings as ‘unequivocal’: ‘Although the two routes were almost the same distance, the main road walkers exposed themselves to higher levels of air pollution than those walking the quieter pedestrian route.’

Children’s lungs are particularly affected by air pollution because they are still developing. Air pollution is implicated in asthma attacks and has been proven to permanently stunt lung development.

Diesel is the biggest culprit in city air pollution – that’s down to the exhaust from buses, taxis and trucks. Four bus routes go along the A2216 (Dog Kennel Hill) and there’s a stop directly outside the school. In South London, the ‘school run’ makes up a large number of daily journeys – just look at the difference in school holidays.

Southwark Green Party want Southwark Council to take decisive action on air pollution:

  • to lobby Transport for London to clean up the buses that pass through South Camberwell
  • to make Southwark roads safe enough for all children to be able to cycle to school if they wish
  • to protect residential streets from use as short-cuts by heavy vehicles
  • to promote clean technology for short journeys (such as last mile delivery by bike or electric vehicle)
  • to use information and enforcement to cut down on idling
  • to tell teachers about episodes of high air pollution and about how to protect their pupils.

Our aim must be to cut pollution levels right across London. There are no safe levels for exposure to particulates and nitrogen dioxide. In the meantime, there are some steps you can take to reduce your own exposure, such as choosing to walk along quieter roads. The links below provide further information.

Thanks to Dr Ben Barratt, Diana Silva and the team at King’s College London.

More information

Sign up for alerts by text or email airtext.info/signup

An article by Eleanor about air pollution Dulwich OnView

Communities and air pollution: research supported by King’s College London

www.breathelondon.org/south-east/project/dog-kennel-hill-primary-school-study

The Healthy Air campaign healthyair.org.uk

Clean Air in London cleanair.london

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