Swings, lungs & roundabouts

DSCF5844©Geoff Wilkinson

Local mum Lydia Fraser-Ward is celebrating after successfully securing a free air quality monitor for Elmhurst Gardens. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

Breathe London’s community programme, which is managed through a partnership between the Mayor of London and Imperial College London, opened in late 2021 and has been designed specifically for individuals, community leaders and grassroots organisations to apply for an air quality node in their neighbourhood. These pieces of smart technology are solar powered and measure nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in the air, both of which are incredibly dangerous to human health.

I first became concerned about air pollution in Elmhurst Gardens when I started using the park last year with my two-year-old son. We’ve always enjoyed the children’s play area, which has been so beautifully maintained by conservation volunteers and local residents. However, considering the close proximity of the playground to the North Circular, it became impossible for me to ignore the constant stream of traffic and the impact it could be having on my son’s health. I started doing some research and realised there was no air quality monitoring near the park, or indeed in any children’s playgrounds or parks in Redbridge.

Most people think that because parks are open spaces air pollution can’t be a problem, but it all depends on where the facilities are in relation to nearby roads and other sources of toxic air.

An Imperial College research project took one-off readings in every London park back in 2019 and I was shocked to discover that, at that time, a quarter of outdoor playgrounds in London exceeded legal limits for air pollution.

Since then, I have been campaigning for more air quality monitoring in South Woodford, and have recently set up a branch of Mums for Lungs in Redbridge, a community group for local parents and residents concerned about neighbourhood air pollution.

My successful application to Breathe London has also caught the attention of Redbridge Council’s Pollution and Public Health Team, who have agreed to put in their own diffusion tube monitor, which will take readings of nitrogen dioxide in the playground over the next six months. Parents have been asked not to touch the tubes if they see them as this could invalidate the results; they have been mounted high up, out of reach, to prevent children from touching them.

I’m so delighted to have these monitors in place and I’m grateful to all the residents, councillors and community groups who helped me with this application, particularly the South Woodford Society, who really helped me get started, and the Friends of Elmhurst Gardens, who did a great job of spreading the word.

The data from the monitors will tell us once and for all if the air in Elmhurst’s playground is dangerous. If it is, then we can use that evidence to lobby for additional measures, like extra trees or a green screen to ensure local children and park users are protected.

The Breathe London node is due to be installed in Spring 2022 and will be in place for 12 months. For more information, visit breathelondon.org

To contact Lydia and for more information about Mums for Lungs Redbridge, email mumsforlungsredbridge@gmail.com