UOW blueprint for better air quality could spell the end of main road ECEC builds

UOW blueprint for better air quality could spell the end of main road ECEC builds

by Freya Lucas

June 10, 2020

A recent study exploring ways to reduce air pollution in Sydney and minimise the exposure of people to poor quality air may impact on the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, with one of the core recommendations being that pre-schools, childcare centres and other core care facilities should not be allowed to be built “near traffic hotspots”.

 

Air pollution is a significant health issue for Sydney that is projected to worsen with climate change and population growth. While Sydney’s air pollution levels are better than those of many comparable cities around the world, even low-level exposure to air pollutants can be a threat to people’s health. 

 

For those aged under five years, air pollution, as the recent summer demonstrated, can have particularly damaging effects on developing lungs. 

 

A Clean Air Plan for Sydney, led by researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW), was published recently in a special edition of the journal Atmosphere on “Air Quality in New South Wales”. It provides a summary of the current understanding of air quality in the city, highlights from recent research, and makes evidence-based policy recommendations for reducing air pollution and people’s exposure to it. 

 

Lead author Professor Clare Murphy, Director of the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry, said that air pollution in Sydney is “dominated by human-created emissions”. 

 

“By reducing emissions from all major sources of pollution, using greener energy sources and infrastructure, and educating the public to reduce their individual exposure, we can improve human health and the liveability of our cities,” Professor Murphy said.

 

The two major sources of air pollution in Sydney are smoke pollution and traffic pollution, with emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles being significant pollution contributors. 

 

Traffic pollution increased significantly near busy roads, and concentrations of particulate matter were 50 per cent higher during the morning rush hour compared to the evening, due to prevailing weather patterns.

These findings will be of interest to those in the ECEC sector who are tasked with securing land and existing property on which to build or re-develop education and care settings. While sites on core traffic routes can be beneficial in terms of parent pick up and drop off on the way to or from work, and for the exposure they offer to passing traffic, locating ECEC settings on major traffic routes may be exposing children to increased health risks. 

In partnership with stakeholders, the report recommends the following policy and public awareness options:

 

  • Prevent the construction of pre-schools, childcare centres, schools, hospitals and aged-care homes near traffic hotspots;
  • Phase out the use of wood heaters in urban areas and some regional areas;
  • New policies, infrastructure and services to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, including better pedestrian and cycle paths, more public transport, and congestion taxes;

 

  • Encourage a rapid move to low-emission vehicles, including electric vehicles;
  • Improve fuel efficiency, fuel quality and emission standards;
  • Phase out diesel vehicles;

 

  • Restrict government vehicles and public transport to non-fossil-fuel use;
  • Encourage individuals to exercise away from main roads;
  • Improving energy efficiency and accelerating the transition to clean energy;
  • Stricter emission controls on local shipping in Sydney;
  • Controlling off-road vehicle emissions, such as diesel-powered mining equipment.

 

The report also recommends improving air quality monitoring and modelling for Sydney, and further research to determine whether urban greening can play a role in reducing air pollution.

 

To access the report in full, please see here

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