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Comparing Air Pollution Levels During Children’s School Journeys with ITV

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

A phone call from ITV

In early January, our Technical Director, Dr. Roland Leigh received a call from producers at ITV who informed him that they would be making a programme for ‘Wales This Week that discussed air pollution. Having previously seen our segment on ITV Central regarding air pollution at a heavily congested junction in Leicester, they expressed their interest in measuring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations to compare various modes of transport during children’s journeys into school.

Exploring the effects of air pollution on children is incredibly important as it can be detrimental when it comes to their development. As their airways are smaller, they breathe more rapidly than adults, so an increased amount of harmful pollutants enter their airways. This means they’re at higher risk of health problems such as asthma, pneumonia and lung cancer as they get older, so it’s important that we prevent this happening before it’s too late.

Measuring the air quality in real-time

Producers at ITV were keen to examine air quality data throughout the journeys to school to help understand exactly what pollutants were in the air. Our Zephyr® air quality sensors not only provide data in real-time, but also have the capability to be used as static or mobile devices that can be easily carried in a backpack.

The Experiment: A Trip Down to Wales

We equipped 4 primary school children with Zephyr® loaded backpacks to take on their usual routes to school (with a parent or guardian) to measure NO2 levels. The various journeys were taken through different modes of transport – walking, cycling, by car and by bus

Our Data Scientist, Dr. Jordan White, joined the team by taking a trip down to Cardiff to help deliver the sensors to each family and be on hand to explain what the air quality information revealed.

With their Zephyr® enhanced backpack and instruction cards at the ready, the experiment commenced, and each family made their way to school.

The Results

After the experiment, the children met outside the school, returned their Zephyr® sensors and attended the morning assembly whilst Jordan collated and processed the Zephyr® data. During the lesson, ITV presenter, Louise Elliott, explained what high amounts of NO2 mean for air quality and what impact this can have on children taking their daily journeys to schools. Here is what we found…

From door-to-door, the average NO2 for the different routes were:

  • Walk (51 ug/m3)

  • Bus (72 ug/m3)

  • Bike (86 ug/m3)

  • Car (86 ug/m3)

Journeys taken to school by walking and cycling are amongst the most environmentally friendly modes of travelling as they don’t contribute emissions and are extremely good ways to keep fit and healthy. Nevertheless, as there are other sources of air pollution in towns and cities, exposure cannot be avoided.

Buses are another mode of green transport due to their ability to reduce the number of cars on the road. NO2 levels were measured from the inside of the bus, which may have entered inside through open windows and from the bus’s engine. High levels of NO2 were also present for the car journey. This could be said to be the most hazardous mode of transport as the large number of cars on the road all emit gases which contribute to air pollution and harm others nearby.

Generally, cars and buses are large sources of NO2. Although buses emit the gas into the atmosphere, they still reduce numbers of cars on the road. Walking and cycling are the least polluting modes of transport although you are still exposed to nearby vehicle emissions.

Making small changes such as walking or cycling to school can reduce emissions and improve air quality greatly. By improving air pollution levels, the negative impacts that this can have on children’s health can be reduced.

Where can I watch the programme?

You can see our Zephyr® air quality sensors in action on Wales This Week on ITV Wales at:

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