Schoolchildren tell idlers to switch off their toxic fumes

Schoolchildren in West Suffolk have been educating motorists to switch off their engines when parked to stop toxic fumes polluting their lungs.

Every day thousands of parents and grandparents drop off and collect children from school – but some leave their engines running while they wait and that could be exposing their children to excessive toxic fumes leading to asthma and damaging their lungs. That can then impact on their health for the rest of their lives.

West Suffolk Council has a statutory duty to monitor air quality across the district and although the air quality is generally good the council is committed to improving this further.

The council announced last year that it was looking to work in partnership with schools where idling motorists who are parked with their engines running is an issue.

The council, which established an Environment and Climate Change Task Force, says that in some vehicles, just a minute of leaving the engine running while stationary – known as idling – can produce enough toxic emissions to fill 60 people’s lungs. Nationally idling is linked to air pollution which Public Health England estimates is a contributory factor in some 40,000 early deaths every year.

Now West Suffolk Council has begun spreading the message to switch off your engine when parked, with the support of pupils from Guildhall Feoffment Primary School and St Edmunds Primary School in Bury St Edmunds, Great Barton Primary School and West Row Academy.

Councillor Andy Drummond said: “All four of these areas have been identified as having issues with idling and pollution. We believe the strongest message is education – I can’t believe that anybody would leave their engine running while parked outside their child’s or grandchild’s school if they knew the harm they could be causing. Many cars now have a REST button designed to keep the inside of a car warm using the residual heat from the engine, which means there’s no reason to keep an engine running when you’re parked. While it would be better for people to cycle or walk, we have to be pragmatic. For some people, they may be dropping off their child before going to work or travelling from further afield. But what we all can do is switch off our engines when stationary. It’s a simple thing to do but it can make a huge difference.”

All four schools held a special assembly which looked at the issue of idling, pollution and health. School children then designed their own posters to help spread the message that idling is bad for their health. Pupils in each of the schools’ road safety teams, together with teachers and council environment officers, patrolled the streets outside their schools, thanking drivers who weren’t idling and asking drivers who were, to switch off. They also handed out leaflets and car stickers to motorists.

The campaign at each school is being supported with ongoing air quality monitoring to measure any impact on air pollution.

Caroline Dunne, class teacher from Guildhall Feoffment, said: “Our pupils are very environmentally aware – we have our own eco council – and we are delighted to be working with the council on this initiative. It already feels like it has had a positive impact as people become more aware of the harm that idling causes.”

Paul Francis, from St Edmunds, said: “As a Rights Respecting School we loved taking part in this initiative so that our children could be active in advocating the right of every child to a clean environment. Our parents responded very positively and our children have been helped to understand how their actions can have a positive impact on our environment.”

Claire Ratley, headteacher at Great Barton Primary, said: “We are already encouraging people to park and stride – to park at the village hall or church and to walk the rest of the way to and from school. Part of the reason for that is to prevent car idling in the village and outside the school. It was great to see our pupils embrace the anti-idling message. We have had a very positive response particularly when the children themselves were asking people to turn off their engines while they also reinforced good behaviour by taking time to thank people who had already switched off their engines.”

And Amelia Back, from West Row Academy, added: “Since we begun this work with the council we have noticed a fall in the number of cars that we see idling on the road outside the school. The work is ongoing but it is having a positive impact which can only be good for pupils’ health and the local environment.”

West Suffolk Council has produced campaign leaflets, posters and other educational materials which it can make available to schools – email

The anti-idling campaign is part of the wider work of the council to cut carbon emissions and improve air quality. This has included investment in solar energy, electric vehicle charging points and promoting energy efficiency of local homes and businesses.

Pictured above are Luca Hopfensperger, Dexter Rooke, Ethan Clifford-Kennedy, Leonore Teixeira, Seren Richards-Chaplin, Alexa Stevenson, Fergus Michael, Erica Norman from the Guildhall Feoffment School with their anti-idling leaflets.

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