An investigation of traffic-related air pollution and policy interventions in the vicinity of schools in the UK

PhD researcher

Louis Brown


Dr Jo Barnes and Professor Enda Hayes


Air quality is a complex and topical issue and has been described as responsible for over 4 million premature annual deaths in the modern world (WHO, 2019). Air quality is monitored and managed in the UK by Defra, devolved administrations and local authorities. It is argued that air pollution caused by traffic and other sources is more detrimental to the health of children due to their developing organs (WHO, 2018). Whilst much of the literature covers these health effects and the correlation between traffic and air pollution, there is a rising number of projects interested in assessing air pollution concentrations and mitigation practices in school vicinities (Amato et al., 2014; Reche et al., 2014; Rivas et al., 2014).

Many cities across the world suffer from air-quality issues and the subject has experienced increasing academic attention over the past decades. Several studies have carried out investigations related to traffic and air pollutants (Dadvand et al., 2015; Minguillón et al., 2015; Raysoni et al., 2013; Ryan et al., 2013). The road transport sector provides a significant contribution to UK emissions, forming the largest segment of total UK emissions (NAEI, 2019). Whilst NOx contributions from non-traffic sources are still considerable, the contribution to roadside NOx by road transport is around 80% (Holgate, 2017). It has been asserted that 1.8 billion, or 93% of children worldwide, currently live with levels of air pollution that exceed WHO guidelines, with more than one in four child deaths cited as directly or indirectly related to such environmental risks (WHO, 2018). Children are an at-risk group and are being exposed to high concentrations of traffic-related air pollution at schools, in addition to air pollution exposure from other urban sources (Minguillón et al., 2015).

Study aim

The study aim can be summarised in the following statement:

To investigate suitable interventions to reduce traffic-related air pollution in the vicinity of schools, to minimise risk of exposure and to provide policy recommendations for key stakeholders.

Research questions and objectives

Q1. What are the baseline levels of traffic-related air pollution in the vicinity of selected schools in the UK?

Objective 1: Create a baseline of traffic-related air pollution (NO2, PM10) data.

Objective 2: Identify exposure risk of traffic-related air pollution concentrations in the vicinity of schools.

Q2. What are the most effective interventions supported by evidence that are suitable for school vicinities?

Objective 3: Research suitable interventions from academic and grey literature.

Objective 4: Co-design with key stakeholders solutions and strategies for mitigation of air pollution exposure risk in the vicinity of schools.

Objective 5: Determine a series of suitable strategies and mitigation measures.

Q3. What is the effectiveness of these interventions on air quality and risk of exposure?

Objective 6: Model each of the determined mitigation measures and strategies on each case study location.

Objective 7: Produce a series of recommendations, based on the study findings.


Due to the sensitivity of children to harmful air pollution, their risk of exposure at or travelling to school is of concern. Concerns have also been raised that current figures do not reflect the true consequences to child health of this exposure, as they commonly represent yearly averages as opposed to peak times when many children are on their way to or from school (Ryan et al., 2013).

The literature review has identified that there are no comprehensive studies quantifying traffic-related air pollution in the vicinity of schools in the UK. Accordingly, the proposed research fills this gap by producing a quantitative GIS for traffic-related air pollution and the generation of relevant, co-developed interventions with key stakeholders for the mitigation and the reduction of risk of exposure in the vicinity of schools in the UK.

Please email Louis Brown at for more information.