At the chalkface: The elephant in the classroom

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

This is murder, isn’t it? Corporate manslaughter? Pollution causes early deaths – 40,000 every year in the UK.

I recently had a rant about all things toxic. Please permit me to do so again. I’m getting unhinged. The column was about the possible brain damage young children, especially in London, could get from present levels of air pollution.

What if it were true?

Well, it is. It kills. It will kill. Who says? Scientists. Proper scientists.

A recent, irrefutable study by the UCL and the University of Cambridge Chemistry Department confirms everything – and then some ( Pollution outside the classroom has appalling effects. It’s even worse inside.

The study examined five primaries and one nursery in London and finds that young children are being exposed to higher levels of damaging air pollution than was previously thought. It puts them at risk of lifelong health problems. It is lethal.

This is murder, isn’t it? Corporate manslaughter? Pollution causes early deaths – 40,000 every year in the UK.

And young children are breathing death inside the classrooms. Tiny tots are in the thick toxic fogs of the stuff. Am I getting hysterical? Too metaphorical? Well, have a bit more science.

The report says young children are breathing in fine particle pollution (PM10 and the even smaller PM2.5) at levels higher than the annual World Health Organisation guidelines.

In the case of PM10, young children are being exposed to higher levels inside the classroom than outside it. Got it? It comes, as any fule kno, from diesel vehicles, tyre and brake dust and solid fuel-burning. Got it?

Tots breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults. It clearly effects secondary school pupils almost as badly. Exposure “can” – let’s drop perilous semantics – “does” – cause brain damage. It also causes asthma, wheezing, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, nervous diseases, heart attacks, strokes, cancers, severe cognitive dysfunction – and, in my case, incoherent rage and near madness.

Pollution is rising to 80 per cent at the roadside in urban areas. Got it? We are breaching EU law. Diesel cars must be banned by any means necessary. Mayor Sadiq Khan has started to work on it. The government must get fascist on it.

Who could be the environment secretary? Michael Gove. Give me strength! Can he do any more harm to schools? Yep. Not content with ruining the syllabus, he’s helping to poison our classrooms. Europe’s highest court has just rejected his “quality air plan”. I can see why he votes Brexit. Michael, this is serious. This isn’t playing politics.

A huge elephant is sitting inside our classrooms. Its name is death.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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