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Research found more than 8,500 educational establishments were surrounded by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) above limits recommended by the World Health Organisation. Some of the highest levels were found in Portsmouth, London, Slough, Gillingham, Camberley, and Chatham. Sources of PM2.5 include vehicle engines, industry, power generation and domestic heating.
The tiny particles are small enough to pass through the lungs into the bloodstream and organs.
They are particularly harmful to children and people with conditions such as asthma and chronic lung disease.
Harriet Edwards, at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, described the findings as “alarming”.
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She said: “There are no safe levels for air pollution, we need to get levels as low as possible and it’s vital the government commits to ambitious new targets in line with the best available science from the WHO.
“Covid-19 has reinforced more than ever the importance of healthy lungs and it’s our responsibility to ensure the next generation breathes clean air.”
The analysis was carried out for the charities by Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants and looked at average levels last year.
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