Opinion: Do we want an air pollution legacy?

PUBLISHED: 08:30 02 June 2019

Dr Lawrence Foley, Bobby Moore Academy, worries about local air pollution.

Dr Lawrence Foley, Bobby Moore Academy, worries about local air pollution.

Bobby Moore Academy

Just last month, the London Mayor’s office published data on our city’s air quality. It makes for pretty stark reading.

The data shows us that, whilst air pollution in the capital appears to be falling, more than two million Londoners are still living in areas afflicted with toxic air. Of those two million Londoners, 400,000 of them are children.

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These figures cannot be acceptable, and the impact of poor air quality on all of us, but especially the young and the elderly, is frightening. We are a borough that is particularly vulnerable to these effects. I watched my grandmother's COPD worsen as development, dust and diesel came to Stratford. I watched a woman who maintained a healthy weight long into retirement, with no history of joint problems, struggle to manage a single flight of stairs, every breath a battle. This month a new inquest was launched into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old who died of an asthma attack thought to be linked to illegal levels of air pollution near her south London home, located in close proximity to the South Circular road. Her last, and, fatal seizure happened during a spike in air pollution levels.

As a teacher, I am always asking myself what I can do to improve the lives of our young people, and a huge part of that is recognising the responsibility we have to take care of their health, and the health of the planet we call home. Too often it seems, we as the adults, the so-called leaders of our society, have not done enough on this issue. Indeed, when the pupil protests against climate change erupted, inspired by Greta Thunberg, I had to wonder what had led our young people to this point. Whilst I do not and never can advocate pupils missing school time for any reason, I have come to the terrifying conclusion that some of those young people felt they had no other choice.

We have a responsibility to safeguard the health of our young people, to ensure that they are fit enough and healthy enough to enjoy the myriad benefits and opportunities that have come with the Olympic legacy. This is why I cannot fathom the proposal to continue to use the Bow East site for concrete batching, nor can I understand the lack of political appetite for rezoning the land. Hundreds of HGVs every day, particulate matter blowing into the air stream that will blow into the lungs of residents in Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. 250m from a school. 250m from the Olympic Park. The question is simple: is that the kind of legacy we are willing to leave?

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