Swansea Council trial living screens aimed at tackling air pollution

LIVING screens aimed at reducing air pollution at two primary schools are to be trialled by Swansea Council.

Air quality has been monitored at Morriston and Oystermouth primaries for nearly a year, and while the council said it didn’t breach specified thresholds, the authority wants to reduce exposure to pollutants which can, among other things, increase the risk of asthma.

Both the schools are on busy roads. The playground of Oystermouth primary, Mumbles, is also close to a traffic light junction and below the level of road.

Tom Price, the council’s lead pollution control officer, told councillors on a scrutiny group that the “green screens” – financed through a grant – would be installed in the coming months and monitored long term to see how effective they were.

A green screen comprising a wire fence covered with a climbing plant was previously installed near houses in Port Tennant,  by the junction of Fabian Way and Port Tennant Road.

Mr Price was asked if air quality rang alarm bells at any schools in Swansea. He said while no mean thresholds were being exceeded at the schools monitored by the council, there was “no safe limit”.

He said pollutants were being measured at the roadside at Oystermouth primary and also inside the school yard. The idea was to attach the green screen along the railings. He said Morriston primary had a busier road than Oystermouth but that it didn’t have traffic lights outside.

The council monitors a number of pollutants at locations across Swansea, the main one being nitrogen dioxide. Pollution is caused by vehicles and other forms of combustion, but some pollutants are blown in from elsewhere.

Mr Price said draft data for the last three years indicated compliance with mean threshold levels in Swansea, although the way the system operates means there can be times when thresholds are exceeded. A report before the panel said there was no set threshold for a tiny particulate called PM2.5.

The scrutiny panel also heard the impacts of engine idling were being looked into. This can be a particular issue at school drop-off and pick-up times, and Mr Price said behavioural change was required.

Air quality expert and emeritus professor, Paul Lewis, of Swansea University’s school of medicine, told the panel that engine idling outside schools was a problem, and pointed out that children were much closer to exhaust level than adults.

“It is a focus for government, and I think it should be,” said Prof Lewis. “But we need more evidence in terms of what those exposure levels are and what the real health impacts are. The evidence that we have got – we know it increases the risk of asthma developing in the child, and also increases the risk of asthma attacks.”

Cllr Wendy Fitzgerald asked if speed humps and 20mph speed limits, which are due to be rolled out across Wales later this year, could worsen air pollution.

Mr Price said the evidence about speed humps was “not necessarily clear-cut”, although it was the case that emissions increased when vehicles accelerated or were on a slope.

Prof Lewis said 20mph limits tended to result in less braking. “The evidence that is there does suggests that driving 20mph generally leads to improvement in terms of PM2.5 exposure,” he said.

Cllr Fitzgerald also said the main road in her Penllergaer ward was being narrowed, and claimed it meant cars that turning right which currently allowed traffic behind to pass would now cause it to block up.

Alterations are being made to the road in question, between Penllergaer and Gorseinon, and its pavements for a new shared-use path for cyclists and walkers to encourage less car usage.

Mr Price said: “Yes, I understand what you’re saying about a right turn – if you have a build-up of traffic that will lead to congestion.”

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