Local parents and children yesterday (9 June) joined an event marking the culmination of work in several local schools on air pollution.
Organised by campaign group Mums for Lungs, the Clean Air Carnival showcased local campaigns and alternatives to car travel.
It features performances from artists, bike repairs, free cargo bike rides and giant bubbles.
The carnival also celebrated the planned expansion in August of ULEZ – the ultra-low emission zone – to outside the South Circular and so including Elmgreen School in West Norwood which hosted the carnival.
Councillor Rezina Chowdhury, deputy leader of Lambeth council (sustainable Lambeth and clean air) explained the council’s policies to eliminate diesel vehicles from the borough.
Recent analysis in London shows that diesel cars now cause three times as much air pollution as lorries. The research, published by the Clean Cities Campaign, shows the share of harmful emissions from diesel and petrol cars has risen in every London borough.
Measurements at The Elmgreen School, which is 50 metres from the South Circular, recorded “very high levels” of PM2.5, a measure of air pollution associated with conditions including asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.
Working with parents, Mums for Lungs, sensor provider AirRated and researchers from the University of Nottingham, Elmgreen students were able to build their own air pollution monitors and filtration system to reduce pollution in their classrooms using a kit that costs about £200.
Cllr Chowdhury told parents at the carnival: “Our air is toxic, and people die prematurely from London’s dirty air.
“The people most at risk are our most vulnerable citizens, our children and people with underlying health issues.
“It’s really important that we clean up our air, so we have recently taken the decision to charge vehicles based on their emissions, those polluting more having to pay more, and diesel cars face an additional charge.
“In Lambeth, we’re keen to make it easier for people to walk or cycle instead. We’re committed to making it safe to cycle and also safe to store a bike across our streets and estates. We want to have as many bike hangars as possible, as we know there is high demand for these.
“Disadvantaged groups in our communities are least likely to own a car, but they’re more likely to be affected by the effect of car use,” Cllr Chowdhury said.
Mums for Lungs is calling for councils to stop issuing new parking permits for diesel cars, with an exemption for Blue Badge holders.
This would not affect residents who already have a diesel car, whose permits would continue to be honoured. But it would discourage any more diesel cars being brought to London, the campaign said.
Local MP Helen Hayes said: “It’s fantastic to see so many people taking part in this celebration and campaign for cleaner air for our children and for everybody to breathe. It’s also fantastic to see so many schools represented here.
“Clean air along with climate change are two of the hardest and the most urgent and important issues that we face. And they are unavoidable issues. We have to see a change or the future will look very bad indeed for our health and for our planet.”
Talking about the different scales at which change needs to happen, Helen Hayes said that after she fell off her bike “in a horrible way” in the middle of the road when a student, she thought she would never cycle again – particularly in London where it is “really scary”.
But, challenged by Mums for Lungs, she agreed she would cycle to Parliament once a week for a month, with training from Cycle Confident.
“I got on my bike and I cycled up to Parliament. And after I’d been doing it for a little bit, I actually started to really enjoy it.
“We can all do something, even if it’s something that seems quite hard.
“But we also need leadership from the government and we need new legislation and we need funding to make the change possible.”
Jemima Hartshorn of Mums for Lungs said: “We are on the cusp of something historic with the end of diesel fumes. But we won’t get there without local leadership from councillors and candidates. Let’s make polluting cars a distant memory.”
She thanked scientists who came to run the science trail and all the people who helped with bike sharing and scooter racing– “absolutely amazing”.
She said lots of people are getting involved in the campaign – “It’s really, really brilliant. We are a clean air group primarily of volunteers. We got together about six years ago because we want clean air in London.
“So thank you so much, especially to all the politicians who made the time to come here today and who are really leading at the heart of the action in London for Clear Air.”
As well as Elmgreen, schools which took part in the event and activities leading up to it include Rosendale primary; Julian’s primary; Hitherfield primary; Judith Kerr primary; Dulwich Wood primary; Jessop primary; St Jude’s primary; Alleyn’s; Oakfield; and Rosemead.