More than 950 schools are near roads that suffer from harmful levels of illegal pollution, new analysis suggests, as a campaign is launched to protect children from dirty air.
The findings that thousands of children are playing in playgrounds within 150 metres of roads with illegal air pollution across the UK comes from an assessment for environmental law charity ClientEarth of the latest government data.
A YouGov survey for the environmental lawyers found three-quarters (76 per cent) of 1,141 parents and carers questioned want extra measures to protect pupils whose schools and playgrounds are in illegally-polluted areas.
More than half (57 per cent) of 1,658 adults questioned in the poll felt the government was not acting quickly enough to tackle the UK's air quality problems.
Air pollution is linked to the early deaths of about 40,000 people a year in the UK, causes problems such as heart and lung diseases and asthma and affects children's development.
ClientEarth is launching a Poisoned Playgrounds campaign which enables parents to see whether their child's school is near a road with illegal levels of air pollution, by entering the postcode into an online search.
Supporters of the campaign are being urged to put pressure on the government, via their MPs, to take action to curb air pollution.
ClientEarth air quality lawyer Alan Andrews said: "Thousands of children in this country are playing in playgrounds near illegally polluted roads.
"This is a legal and moral failing of our political leaders that puts children's health at risk at a time when they are still growing and therefore vulnerable. Naturally, parents want something to be done. So do we."
The campaign also features a video of young children from two schools suffering from nearby air pollution.
Billboard adverts are going up in some of the most polluted towns and cities, such as Birmingham, Cardiff, Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester and Southampton, with details of the number of schools in the area near polluted roads.
'A duty to protect'
Katie Horwood, headteacher at Chestnuts Primary in Haringey, North London, said: "We have a duty to protect the health of children who attend the school. As well as educating them in class, we need to let them exercise in the playground.
"Pupils should be able to breathe healthy air when they are outside, but like many schools we have busy roads nearby and there seems to be a collective failure of those in power to take action to protect young people's lives and lungs."
She said while the school was doing what it could, action from the government was needed to encourage drivers to move to cleaner forms of transport and ensure less traffic on roads near playgrounds.
ClientEarth wants a national network of clean air zones to keep the dirtiest vehicles away from illegally polluted areas and help for people to move to cleaner forms of transport, as well as efforts to prevent cars idling outside schools and to encourage walking and cycling instead of the school run.
A government spokesperson said: "We have put in place a £3 billion plan to reduce emissions and improve air quality.
"As part of that investment, we are supporting local authorities to develop plans to address pollution hot spots in their areas, including near schools.
"Next year we will publish a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy tackling all forms of air pollution."
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