Wales’s polluted primary schools take action on Clean Air Day
Published: 14 Jun 2023
Where you live in Wales shouldn’t determine how well you breathe, especially at school, a place you should feel safe.
Schools taking part in the ‘I want Clean Air’ campaign are currently in areas of poor air quality. The aim of the campaign is to encourage young people to take a closer look at air pollution, how it affects their health and what can be done to help tackle it.
This comes as the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, which aims to help tackle toxic air in Wales, is still at early stages and needs evidence to ensure strong legislation is established.
To ensure their voices are heard, pupils are writing letters and sending posters to the Senedd Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee, who are currently scrutinising evidence relating to the bill.
School engagement is essential, say Healthy Air Cymru, a coalition of organisations which includes Sustrans Cymru, Asthma and Lung UK Cymru and Friends of the Earth Cymru, to help create new behaviours around active travel and ensures no one, whatever their background or age, feels powerless to do something about it.
Sue Hurry, Headteacher at Coychurch Primary School in Bridgend, one of the schools taking part, said:
“We are concerned about the impact of air pollution within our school community. Our school is adjacent to a busy dual carriageway and poor air quality and elevated levels of pollution from vehicles is worrying, particularly for the many pupils who suffer with asthma at our school.
“At Coychurch Primary, we encourage our pupils to be active and to cycle, walk and scooter to school and we were the first school in Wales to achieve the Gold Active Travel Award.
“We believe that the Clean Air Bill will help to ensure that our pupils can access and attend a safe, clean, and healthy school environment where they can learn, play, and thrive.”
Samuel Aylward, a Year 5 class teacher from Ysgol-y-Graig in Merthyr Tydfil, said:
“Active travel has been a huge focus of development in our new and improved Ysgol Y Graig. We have worked hard to reduce traffic and congestion around our school grounds through effective initiatives, such as improving communication with our families.
“We now engage through regular newsletters that challenge to increase the number of children actively travelling to school. In turn, this is improving the air quality around our school community. We are in the process of developing a cycle bus that we hope will considerably reduce the toxins in the air.
“The new bill is a huge step in the right direction, but it will take the community and wider stakeholders to really make an impact.
“We look forward to our journey ahead in active travel and with each small initiative in the school's calendar, we're making big changes to our learning environment and our school's culture towards active travel.”
Joseph Carter, Chair of Health Air Cymru and Head of Asthma + Lung UK Cymru said:
“Air pollution is one of the most pressing public health issues we face, contributing up to 2000 early deaths a year in Wales.
“The purpose of this campaign is to engage young people to help shape their future and we are grateful to all the schools who are taking part. We’re just at the beginning of our journey towards a greener, fairer, and healthier future, where we walk and cycle more and use the car less.”
Haf Elgar, Vice Chair of Healthy Air Cymru and Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said:
“Air pollution is bad for our health and our planet, as the rise in climate-changing emissions is impacting nature and communities in Wales and across the world.
“That’s why we need legislation strong enough to consign air pollution to its rightful place in the history books. On Clean Air Day we urge all Senedd members, the Welsh Government, and indeed anyone involved in bringing about this new bill to listen to the voices of school children calling for a cleaner, greener Wales.”
Research from Friends of the Earth last year revealed that most neighbourhoods in Wales are breaching WHO air pollution guidelines, and that vulnerable communities, such as people on the lowest incomes in Wales are breathing in the most polluted air.
Children are more at risk from air pollution than adults because their lungs are still developing. They also breathe faster, which means they take in more polluted air. Being exposed to pollution as a child increases the risk of developing asthma and COPD as an adult.
Healthy Air Cymru are calling for the strongest legislation possible to help protect our future generations and tackle health inequalities.