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clean air for schools Air purifier in classroom Children measuring air quality

September 16, 2020

  • New analysis reveals a 50% reduction in air pollution around schools across the UK and Ireland could halve the number of children who have lung function so poor as to affect their everyday lives

  • National Clean Air for Schools Framework launched to tackle air pollution in and around schools

  • Microscope images of children’s sputum reveal the level of black carbon in their lungs

Amsterdam, the Netherlands – Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA), a global leader in health technology, and the Philips Foundation, with its mission to provide access to quality healthcare for disadvantaged communities through innovation, together with UK-based charity Global Action Plan reveal new analysis by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) that shows if outdoor air pollution is halved, there could be up to a 20-50% reduction in the number of children with poor lung function across the UK and Republic of Ireland [1].

  The analysis also finds the reduction in air pollution seen during the country-wide lockdown leads to asthma exacerbations in children all but disappearing.

Based on this analysis, a coalition comprised of Global Action Plan, the Philips Foundation, Living Streets, Modeshift Stars and Mums for Lungs, with the support of Philips and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), are collaborating for nationwide action by the Government and local authorities to improve air quality at schools, driven by a legally binding target to meet World Health Organization limits.

To support the movement, Global Action Plan and the Philips Foundation, with the endorsement of Philips, have launched “The Clean Air for Schools Framework”. The framework is a free online tool that gives teachers, headteachers, parents and local authorities a bespoke blueprint of actions for tackling air pollution in and around the school. This is drawn from its database of 50 actions that have been validated by a mix of existing research, academic insights from the University of Manchester and in school air quality testing.

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The tool is particularly important for schools in air pollution hotspots [2] across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.  It will enable them to reduce air pollution from their own operations, educate the next generation to help them and their families make cleaner air choices and become a local leader on air pollution, working with partners to improve air quality in the local area. 

Around a quarter of all morning, rush-hour car trips during school term time comprise school run traffic, increasing emissions outside schools. A clean air program implemented by the London Borough of Hackney, pioneer of School Streets and one of the leading community grassroots initiatives proactively tackling air pollution, shows the significant improvements that can be made through these programs. The first four School Streets launched in the borough showed that traffic reduced by an average of 68%, the number of children cycling to school increased by 51%, and vehicle emissions outside schools (NOx, PM10 and PM2.5) are down by 74% as a result of the schemes [3].

“Local authorities must take advantage of free tools such as the Clean Air for Schools Framework, as the analysis by Queen Mary University of London shows, air pollution impacts the daily lives of so many children,” said Chris Large, Co-CEO at Global Action Plan. “But they must act now. Therefore, protecting today’s generation of school children against the toxins carried by air pollution is not only imperative to preventing damage to children’s daily health but also to reduce the impact of this and future pandemics.” 

“As school children continue to settle into classrooms this autumn, we have a once in a generation opportunity to tackle poor air quality head-on,” said Mark Leftwich, Director Personal Health, Philips UK and Ireland. “It is vital we take immediate action to protect public health from significant future health crises, which ongoing research shows can be worsened by air pollution in a patient with underlying respiratory issues. Setting long-term targets for emissions is welcome, but we cannot wait another 20 or 30 years for proposed targets to take effect. Doing so would compromise the health of the most vulnerable communities for decades to come – which crucially includes our children.”

To demonstrate the impact air pollution has on children’s lungs, the campaign is showcasing new infra-red images of children’s sputum, which show the pollutants found in the lungs. “Airborne” by artist Sarah Stirk is a multimedia project focusing on air pollution’s impact on the health of children in London. It utilizes microscopic images of black carbon i.e., particulate matter, in children’s spit, data maps showing pollution levels and new infrared images of children. Campaigners will use the new assets as a means of making the invisible visible to put added pressure on local authorities across the UK and Ireland to take urgent action.

[1] https://www.globalactionplan.org.uk/files/effects_of_air_pollution_exposure_by_dr_abigail_whitehouse.pdf
[2] https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2017/04/04/air-pollution-nurseries/

[3] https://news.hackney.gov.uk/traffic-to-be-banned-outside-40-schools-as-part-of-emergency-plan/

For further information, please contact:

Laura Seikritt
Philips Global Press Office
Tel.: +31 6 20 74 03 18
Email: [email protected]

Elizabeth Littlewood
Philips U.K. & Ireland
Tel.: +44 7909 874563
Email: [email protected]

Yannick Eshuijs
Philips Foundation
Tel.: +31 6 18 52 66 33
Email: [email protected]

About Royal Philips
Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA) is a leading health technology company focused on improving people’s health and enabling better outcomes across the health continuum from healthy living and prevention, to diagnosis, treatment and home care. Philips leverages advanced technology and deep clinical and consumer insights to deliver integrated solutions. Headquartered in the Netherlands, the company is a leader in diagnostic imaging, image-guided therapy, patient monitoring and health informatics, as well as in consumer health and home care. Philips generated 2019 sales of EUR 19.5 billion and employs approximately 81,000 employees with sales and services in more than 100 countries. News about Philips can be found at www.philips.com/newscenter.

About the Philips Foundation
The Philips Foundation is a registered charity that was established in July 2014 – founded on the belief that innovation and collaboration can help solve some of the world’s toughest healthcare challenges for the underserved and make essential impact. Reflecting our commitment to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages) and 17 (Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development), the mission of the Foundation is to reduce healthcare inequality by providing access to quality healthcare for disadvantaged communities. The Philips Foundation fulfills its mission by deploying Philips’ expertise, innovative products and solutions, by collaborating with key partners around the world (including respected NGOs such as UNICEF, Amref and ICRC), and by providing financial support for the collaborative activities. More information on the Philips Foundation can be found at www.philips-foundation.com

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Tags: global action plan local authorities air for schools air pollution across the uk air quality of children

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Smoke from California's wildfires likely killed more than 1,200 people – nearly 50 times the number who perished in the flames

San Francisco, California, on September 9, 2020. Katie Canales/Business Insider

  • Wildfire smoke has likely killed more than 1,200 people in California this year, according to Stanford researchers. 
  • That's because smoke contains harmful particles that can enter the lungs and bloodstream, raising people's risk of heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. 
  • The analysis only looked at people over 65 in California, so its estimate of smoke-related deaths is probably an undercount. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Wildfires have taken a terrible toll on the West Coast this summer. In California alone, the flames have burned more than 3.6 million acres, destroyed nearly 7,200 structures, and killed at least 26 people.

But a new analysis suggests that the total death count from the fires could be more than 50 times higher than official estimates when a secondary culprit is factored in: smoke.

Between August 1 and September 10, poor air quality driven by wildfire smoke likely killed 1,200 people, according to estimates from researchers at Stanford University. That number could be as high as 3,000 deaths, based on their calculations.

The smoke-related deaths they calculated are among people 65 and older – a population that's especially vulnerable to the impacts of particulate matter and among which preexisting conditions like diabetes and respiratory ailments are common.

"These are hidden deaths," Marshall Burke, an associate professor at Stanford who calculated the death toll, told The Mercury News. "These are people who were probably already sick but for whom air pollution made them even sicker."

Small particles from wildfire smoke can burrow into lungs

The researchers' estimate relies on data from a 2019 study that analyzed the impact of poor air quality on deaths and emergency room visits among people over 65. Air quality for both studies was measured based on levels of PM2.5: fine particles no more than 2.5 micrometers across. This is the main pollutant from wildfire smoke. 

A map of the US shows high levels of PM2.5 throughout the US West Coast on September 11, 2020. AirNow.gov

When inhaled, the tiny particles can burrow deep into the lungs and bloodstream, causing inflammation. Research has connected PM2.5 pollution to a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. Even in healthy young people, PM2.5 can irritate the eyes and lungs and cause difficulty breathing. 

The 2019 study found that for every additional microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5, deaths among the elderly increased by 0.7 per 1 million people over the subsequent three days, and ER visits went up by 2.7 per million.  

The Stanford researchers applied that to the concentration of particulate matter in the air in California between August 1 and September 10, the period when the state's biggest wildfires raged. In those weeks, California air had an average of 300 more micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 than normal.

Given that there are about 6 million people older than 65 in California, the researchers concluded the state probably saw 1,200 additional deaths and 4,800 ER visits because of the wildfire smoke. When accounting for the smoke's effect on people over the following month, the number rose to 3,000 extra deaths.

"This is just in CA alone! And just for people aged 65+," Burke wrote in a blog post explaining his calculations. "Oregon and Washington are being hit very hard right now too, and non-elderly are also surely affected. So this is likely a substantial lower bound on total health costs."

A smoky Seattle skyline due to wildfires in September 2020. Lindsey Wasson/Stringer/Getty Images

Oregon and Washington both saw dangerously poor air quality from early to mid-September. In some parts of both states, air quality levels were literally off the charts – PM2.5 levels exceeded the range of the EPA's air quality index (AQI), which measures pollutants in the air. 

Combined, the two states have around 2 million people over 65, according to census data. 

Additionally, the Stanford researchers noted that their calculations didn't factor in COVID-19. Because the disease impacts the respiratory system, it's very possible their numbers underestimate the total death count for that reason as well. 

The relationship between COVID-19 and wildfire smoke isn't well-studied yet, but researchers have already expressed concern that smoke's detrimental effect on the lungs could make COVID-19 hit vulnerable people extra hard and vice versa.

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