News / Toronto

New study finds higher air pollution at school drop-off zones

Emissions were higher in the winter because of air stagnation around the Great Lakes.

Researchers did not count emissions from buses but plan to tackle that in a future study.

Graham Paine / Torstar News Service Order this photo

Researchers did not count emissions from buses but plan to tackle that in a future study.

Kids are getting more than just a ride at school drop-off zones, according to research from the University of Toronto.

The study published in the journal Atmospheric Environment looked at elementary schools across Hamilton and found more air pollution around kiss-and-ride zones, where parents line up in cars to pick up their children.

"On average at that drop-off location, for average pollution in Ontario, you're getting about 50 per cent more," said co-author Matthew Adams, professor of geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

Emissions were higher in the winter because of air stagnation around the Great Lakes, and at times the levels were "similar to what you would get if you were standing within about 100 metres of the 401 during rush hour," Adams said.

Exposure to air pollution increases children's risk of asthma, cardio-respiratory diseases and poor performance in school, said Adams.

"The more often you're exposed to pollution the higher your risk is," he said. "It adds up."

The findings are "a big concern" for Sue Dunlop, superintendent of student achievement at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. She said they'll take the findings forward as part of a long-term strategy to get more kids walking and improve the design of drop-offs. 

While Adams encourages kids to walk to school, he acknowledges that's at an all-time low over worries like stranger danger and a lack of pedestrian infrastructure in the suburbs.

Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, said the study is "more evidence that we need to be changing the way we design these drop-offs."

Smith Lea contributed to a guide last year to help parents navigate the city's system to get improvements made to streets near their schools. It's been downloaded more than 500 times and is now also available in French.

"Danger posed by cars was the biggest barrier," she said. "No one wants to put their kids at risk."

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