DOCTORS in Scotland have called for air quality monitors to be placed at all urban primary schools for at least a year amid fears youngsters are being exposed to 'life-altering' pollution.

The Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh (RCPE) has made the recommendation to MSPs amid concerns over a lack of robust data on air quality around schools despite the known health risks from pollution - especially in young children. 

The College's Working Group on Air Pollution and Health said a year-long trial of air quality monitors outside city primary schools would provide reliable measurements and avoid the results being skewed by seasonal variation in pollution levels. 

The process should be then replicated at the country’s urban secondary schools, said the College.

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It has set out its recommendations in a consultation response to the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee.

Professor Andrew Elder, president of the RCPE and co-lead for the Working Group on Air Pollution and Health, said: “The evidence that air pollution harms the health of our school children, and that as a population cohort they are particularly at risk from that harm, is overwhelming.

"The negative health impacts of air pollution on children include problems with the lung, heart, brain and immune and hormonal systems.

"Furthermore, we are extremely concerned that the country’s least well off children often live in the areas of highest air pollution – this can only exacerbate the pre-existing health inequalities we all want to end.

“Our current understanding of air quality levels at all the country’s primary schools is relatively limited with 24 hour average level data not being published and many schools simply too far away from networked air quality monitors.

"We consider that robust data is required as a priority so that mitigation measures around schools where air pollution is above guideline levels can be introduced without delay.”

The Herald:

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Co-lead on the working group, Jill Belch, a professor of vascular medicine at Dundee University and head of the Institute of Cardiovascular Research, said children are "hugely susceptible" to the harmful effects of air pollution.

She said: "They have larger lung to body size, are outside more, and they are very vulnerable to toxins.

"Furthermore, they walk and run closer to exhaust pipes and emissions.

"We know that air pollution can affect every system in their body from lungs, to brain, skin and gut, producing damage which could affect the rest of their lives.

“It is also an issue of inequality as some of the inner city schools have children from areas of deprivation, where their parents may not have a car, but yet these children are subjected to life altering poisonous particles and gases."

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The Herald:

Prof Belch noted that previous analysis by RCPE in Scotland found a significant increase in children being admitted to hospital on days of high pollution compared to when the levels are lower.

She added: “Scotland has some of the best air quality laws in Europe, but pockets remain, and we must make sure our children are safe.

"Many city schools are not near current air quality monitors, so how do we know what our children are breathing in? The first step is to determine this, the second is to fix air quality where needed.”