Vegetation around school playground protects children from air pollution

Exposure to traffic-related air pollution is associated with a range of health risks including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological health. These risks can be exacerbated in young children attending primary school next to busy roads because their major organs are still developing and children have higher breathing rates than adults.

A team of researchers led by Barbara Maher, Professor Emeritus at Lancaster University, and supported by Groundwork Greater Manchester, installed ‘tredges’ (trees managed as a head-high hedge) at three primary school in Manchester during summer break 2019.

One school installed ivy screens, another had western red cedar, and a third had a mix of western red cedar, swedish birch and an interior juniper hedge. A fourth field, without cultivation, was used as a control.


The school with the ivy display saw a dramatic decrease in the concentration of particulate matter in the playground, but an increase in black carbon. The playground with the planting mix has reduced air pollution compared to the western red cedar playground.

The greatest overall reduction in particulate matter and black carbon was shown in the field with western red cedar grown. The results showed that almost half (49%) of the black carbon and between 46% and 26% of the fine particles, PM2.5 and PM1 emitted by vehicular traffic were captured by the red cedars in the eastern part of the country. west.

Dredging also significantly reduces the intensity and frequency of air pollution ‘spikes’ reaching playgrounds.

Professor Maher said: “Our findings suggest that we can protect school playgrounds, by using carefully selected and managed dredges that can capture air pollution particles on their leaves. busy roads where inland air quality is severely poor, and this can be done quickly and cost-effectively.”

Scientists believe western red cedar works best at stopping particulate air pollution from entering the playground because its lush, small, rough evergreen leaves act as a filter, capturing pollutant particles and preventing it from circulating in the atmosphere. When it rains, the particles are washed away – ending up in the soil or draining – allowing the leaves to then capture more of the contaminated particles.

Professor Maher said: “Western red cedar cedar works well because the leaves of this species form millions of tiny corrugated projections, each of which can collide with particles suspended in the air and ‘ catch’ them into burrs, grooves and pores.

“This removes them from the local atmosphere and thus reduces the exposure to these traffic-derived air pollution particles by children and playground staff.”

The researchers believe that species like ivy are not as effective at combating granular pollution as western red cedar because of the smooth, waxy surface of its leaves. Thus, it acts like a barrier, where it blocks the transport of some particulate matter but is ineffective in capturing and thus removing it from the air.

The researchers suggest that the benefits highlighted by this study are not limited to schools, and that carefully selected and managed dredges could be used in other parts of the region. urban areas to reduce the harmful health effects of traffic pollution exposure.

The research was supported with funding from Manchester City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester, and the Greater Manchester Groundwork, which installed the works and organized a ‘citizen science’ workshop with classes Learn from schools to highlight issues around air quality and steps young people and their families can take to make a difference.

Councilor Tracey Rawlins, Manchester City Council’s Executive Commissioner for Environment, said: “We wanted to be part of this research as Manchester seeks to embrace innovation in its quest to be a city. Greener with cleaner air and addressing climate change We note these positive findings with interest and will look at how we can use the lessons from this project to further targeted use of green infrastructure in the city.”

The study’s findings are detailed in the paper ‘Protecting the playing field: local-scale reduction of airborne particulate concentrations through particle deposition on roadside ‘alluvial’ (baseline) green infrastructure)’.

Researchers on the paper include: Barbara Maher and Vassil Karloukovski of Lancaster University; Tomasz Gonet, formerly of Lancaster University and now Jaguar Land Rover; Huixia Wang of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, China; and Thomas Bannan, University of Manchester.

Source: Newswise

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