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Harlesden children deserve clean air

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

We need to drastically reduce air pollution in our neighbourhood for the sake of the younger generations

Last March, The Times newspaper published an article with an alarming headline - ‘Dangerous air pollution levels outside quarter of homes’. The content of the news item, which detailed the findings of a study carried out by scientists from Imperial College London, was even more worrying.

The research established that ‘the air on the doorsteps of nearly eight million homes in the UK exceeds at least one of the World Health Organisation’s recommended limits for particulate matter or nitrogen dioxide (NO2)’.

In other words, between a third and a quarter of UK households breathe in a substance that is harmful to health, can cause a shortness of breath and a cough, and reduces our immunity to lung infections. Half of nitrogen oxide emissions in London come from road transport.

Sadly, we are number 1

In Harlesden, our exposure to nitrogen dioxide is even worse. The Times article stated that, according to the same research carried out by Imperial College London, ‘properties on High Street in Harlesden, northwest London, have the highest NO2 rating.’

I already knew that air pollution in Harlesden was extremely bad. I have been campaigning for cleaner air in Brent since 2016, after all. I am aware the statistics are bad - hospital admissions for asthma in Brent are among the highest in London.

Although I don’t suffer from asthma myself, I know from experience how much nicer it is to breathe cleaner air. Whenever I step out of my local area and spend the day in a less polluted part of London or England, I notice how lighter the air feels - and you probably do too.

Still, somehow the article published in The Times stopped me in my tracks. I felt compelled to share it with friends and neighbours.

I am not defeated. In fact, my determination to raise awareness of the health impact of air pollution in my role as Harlesden Neighbourhood Forum Clean air ambassador has been growing stronger since my nomination to this volunteer position.

Cleaning the air is a collective effort

Whether we are business owners, elected representatives, council staff or residents of Harlesden, we have a shared responsibility to reduce air pollution in our area - even though some of us have a bigger responsibility because we have more power or influence.

My motivation for cleaner air is very straightforward : children deserve much better air.

Why? Because it’s been well-established that the youngest among us are particularly vulnerable to air pollution as their lungs and their bodies develop. Also, one of the many benefits of cleaner air for children is that they learn better at school.

The Ultra Low Emission Zone will help us clean the air

The expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to Harlesden and other parts of London on October 15th of this year is very welcome. As the most polluting diesel cars, motorcycles and vans will be charged £12.50 per day to enter the zone, there will be fewer dirty vehicles driving in and out of Harlesden.

However, ULEZ won’t be enough to clean the air in our neighbourhood.

As long as our high street is dominated by cars and heavy good vehicles, traffic will remain heavy, air pollution high and our health will suffer as a result.

Also, bear in mind that vehicles are not the only source of pollution.

Wood burning is another leading cause of air pollution across the UK. The tiny particles of soot created by wood combustion in a wood stove or a firepit are of the most dangerous air pollutants.

We need to do more

So how can we reduce air pollution in Harlesden for the sake of our children, grandchildren and the kids’ who attend school round the corner from us?

  • We need to walk and cycle more when and if possible

  • We need to turn off our engines when our cars are stationary

  • We need to have deliveries made by cargo-bikes and electric vehicles

  • We need to burn less wood

  • We need children to walk, cycle and scoot safely to school thanks to school streets

  • We need to raise awareness of air pollution and its toxic impact on our lungs, our hearts, our brains and our reproductive organs.

  • We need to lobby people in power with all our might to give us more time to cross the road as pedestrians, proper cycle lanes so we feel safe to jump on our bikes and greener high streets.

If we do all of the above and more, in 10 years, we will look back on 2021 and feel very proud of the healthy environment we created for our children and their children in Harlesden.

Maybe we will get a positive mention in a national newspaper but, whether it happens or not, it doesn’t matter at all.

Improving the health of our community is all that matters.

5 things you can do to reduce your exposure to air pollution

  1. Avoid car journeys. Air pollution can be 3 times higher inside a car than outside.

  2. Choose back streets rather than main roads when you plan your journey on foot, especially if you are pregnant, have asthma or your child has asthma.

  3. Avoid burning wood whether in a stove inside or in a firepit in your garden.

  4. Avoid burning garden waste. It creates a lot of pollution for yourself, for your neighbours and the extended neighbourhood.

  5. Avoid exercising outside when the air pollution is high. Visit London Air Quality to find out current and forecast air pollution levels.


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