Small Schools and Traffic Pollution:  A Universal Hazard

We are grateful to Emeritus Professor Edith King and associate Professors Salwa Al Darwish and Lichiu Lee for raising awareness of global traffic pollution on children in our schools. The proximity of schools within areas of high pollution has obvious immediate health  consequences but potentially also lifelong, debilitating impact on health outcomes and life quality.

Small Schools and Traffic Pollution:  A Universal Hazard

Edith W. King, Salwa Al Darwish, Lichiu Lee

Attention educators, families and citizens at large you need to be concerned over traffic pollution in the air that surrounds schools across Britain.  At some time, our children may be in a classroom where this hidden hazard is menacing.  Most adults don’t realize that Britain’s young children are in harm’s way due to invisible air pollution.  Did you know that according to the Guardian newspaper report in 2017, hundreds of thousands of British children are being exposed to illegal levels of damaging air pollution from high powered diesel cars and trucks?  The Guardian study analyzed government data that showed this traffic is not limited to large metropolitan areas. Pollution was evident in towns and cities from Newcastle to Plymouth. “The analysis shows smaller towns and cities –including Poole and Oxford – also suffer diesel traffic pollution… …Some nursery providers and head teachers had no idea their schools were in pollution hotspots.”  The research revealed that more than 1,000 nurseries which look after 47,000 babies and children are close to roads where the level of nitrogen dioxide from diesel traffic is at illegal levels. (Guardian, April 4, 2017)   Britain is not the only nation where dangerous air pollution caused by traffic is endangering schools.  These conditions are cited across the globe by the media.

In metropolitan areas all over the world, air pollution is increasing to dangerous levels.  People in major cities in the U.S., Europe, Middle East and Central Asia have highway systems that encircle them. People breathe in dangerous levels of pollution from the traffic.  Country-wide studies, research and scientific polls on health issues have been mounted since the 1990s into the 21st century to document the dangers of air pollution.  News reports of dangerous air pollution in major cities such as Beijing, China, as well as London, England, New York City, and Los Angeles, California are becoming ever more frequent.  Numerous research projects on the quality of air people breathe have been sponsored by concerns for children and adults suffering from asthma and other respiratory conditions.  Reports on schools near major highways and busy roads warn that traffic pollution can harm young children and even stunt their growth and affect their development. Studies indicate that exposure to traffic pollution can cause asthma, cognitive problems, heart disease and dementia.  (Hopkins, 2017)   Until recently reports about the consequences for children of polluted air around school buildings and playgrounds were barely addressed on the worldwide web or in international media.  This article describes the global hazard of traffic pollution near schools particularly for younger children.  Here the focus is on this hazard in three nations:  the southwest of the United States, in Taichung, Taiwan; and in Kuwait City, State of Kuwait.



Small Schools and Traffic Pollution in Southwest United States

An alarming report on the locations and conditions of smaller public and private schools in Denver, Colorado appeared in early 2017.  The schools were part of a nation-wide investigation by the Center for Public Integrity into traffic-related air pollution near school locations.   The smaller charter (free) schools were situated near major traffic roads with invisible air pollution.  The Report describes one charter school’s playground where the chain-link perimeter fence is just below a busy highway overpass.  Administrators and teachers in the Denver area voiced their opinions that air pollution resulting from busy roads might be affecting their children. They were concerned that no mitigation measures were in place at most of these schools. The Report points out that school sites might be near busy roadways where the locations were purchased more cheaply.  Small schools are moving into vacant buildings alongside the busy roads where commercial and industrial businesses were once located for convenience and accessibility.     However, the problem of traffic-related air pollution near schools is not exclusive to big cities like Denver but is found in suburban and rural areas of the United States as well.  (Schimke, 2017).   In US Southwest states other than Colorado, in Arizona and California families with students of all ages are becoming aware of traffic pollution surrounding their schools, and parents are voicing their concerns about these conditions.

Small Schools and Traffic Pollution in Kuwait

 Evidence from other nations like those in the Middle East is forthcoming.  Dr. Salwa Al Darwish, Kuwait College of Basic Education, reports on the State of Kuwait.  Located north east of Saudi Arabia and south of Iraq, Kuwait is considered to have the highest gross domestic product (GDP) among world nations. Kuwait is fourth in in its holdings of oil reserves and the daily oil production amounts to about 2.9 million Barrels a day (AMF, 2016). The population reached 4.25 million in 2016, and the annual growth rate is about 3%. The number of school students (public and private) is around 625,000, 55% of whom are in kindergarten and primary schools. The area in use for urban activities is about 1200 kilometers and accounts for 7% of the total land (Kuwait Central Statistical Bureau, CSBA, 2016). The rest of Kuwait’s available land is allocated for activities related to oil production and oil industries. This has made its average real state among the most expensive in the world. The desert climate is characterized by extreme heat during the long summer months and extreme cold during the short winter months.

The strong purchasing power associated with high GDP encourages the population to rely on private transport to travel around. Summer temperatures, from April to October, exceed 50 degrees Centigrade and this necessitates vast electricity generation plants, feeding one of the highest per-capita electricity consumptions in the world.  The impact of environmental noise and air pollution on children’s health and development in schools raises major public health concerns. This could be greatly reduced if environmental pollution is accounted for in the initial stages of selecting sites for new schools and planning their physical design.

Kuwaiti fathers and mothers were interviewed in the Spring of 2017 by Dr. al Darwish.  They told her they believed it to be important that standards of air quality around the schools is monitored and controlled so to reduce the effect of traffic pollutants on their children’s health. One father emphasized the need for environmental pollution to be given far greater attention. He said that the town planners should take account of where schools are placed as well as the schools’ design, stating that “The influence of the environmental pollution on school children’s health is really a big concern to every parent.  Our school, the American United School of Kuwait, and the area around it are disturbed by heavy road traffic routes and levels of pollutants from fuel pumping stations.”  Al Darwish learned from the interviews that Kuwaiti parents are concerned about the rising levels of pollution and traffic that present health risks for their children. Some think the Kuwait government should consider public transportation for the government school students that could reduce the amount of traffic around the schools and the associated air pollution problems in the country.

Small Schools and Traffic Pollution in Taichung, Taiwan

On the other side of the globe in Taiwan, the debilitating conditions of the air people breathe are concerning.  Dr. Lichiu Lee, Feng Chia University, Taichung, reports that there are daily postings in the news about the poor air quality in central parts of Taiwan. According to the Environmental Protection Administration and Taiwan Air Quality Monitoring Network, the air quality on May 19, 2017 was unhealthy for sensitive groups, especially in parts of central and southern Taiwan. This means that air quality was unhealthy for young children, the elderly and people with a chronic disease. Dr. Lee notes that it is usually on the morning news that people hear about the air quality that day, from either the TV at home or the radio while driving to work.

She believes that recently almost everyone in Taiwan pays attention to air pollution, especially parents with young children who attend schools in the neighborhood.  When air quality monitors show a “red” signal this indicates that the air is unhealthy for everyone in that district.  Many people complain that the major air pollution is the dust that blows in from the People’s Republic of China.  However, an important study noted that 70% of the air pollution is mainly caused by the people within Taiwan itself.  A recent study mounted in the Taichung area sited that a major contributor is the Taichung Thermal Power Plant polluting the central areas. The Environment Protection Administration has a six-color scale to measure ozone, carbon dioxide, and other concentrates in the air.  These frequent remainders bring continual concerns to the teachers and parents of young children that attend local nurseries and schools.

A Global Issue: Schools and Traffic Polluting the Air

This article reveals the increasing global threat of traffic polluting the air near schools. The growth of population and the development of huge highway systems in major urban areas have dramatically changed how students access their schools.  Especially for young children on playgrounds and in small schools near super highways, the polluted air they are breathing from the passing traffic can be dangerous.  The authors, King, Al Darwish, and Lee live in three widely distant countries: Southwest United States, Kuwait and Taiwan and document the hazardous conditions in their respective urban locations, i.e. Denver, Colorado, Kuwait City, and Taichung, Taiwan.  An important article in the Guardian describes the conditions in Britain as well.  Across the globe these are serious new international concerns for education!

 To summarize: in the oil rich nation of Kuwait, where much of the land has been given over to oil and gas production, traffic has built up on the roads through the desert.  Here air pollution increases, affecting schools located nearby these busy roads. In the cities of Taiwan there is evidence of how busy highways near schools affect the quality of the air, along with the dust from China blowing across this nation.  In the Southwest of the United States, urban areas such as Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix continue to locate small schools near busy highways. And in the UK too, road traffic fouls the air and becomes hazardous for school children. The photo below is an indication of how youngsters must be constantly protected these days. The growth in global populations and industries to serve the people has brought dangerous new health conditions to schools all over the world.



References and Sources

Photos in the Public Domain

Arab Monetary Fund (2016) Joint Arab Economic Report.

The Guardian. (2017) “Thousands of British Children Exposed to Illegal Levels of Air Pollution”     April 4, 2017.

Hopkins, J.S.  (2017) “Questions and Answers About Schools and Traffic Pollution.”  public   February 17, 2017.

Kuwait Central Statistical Bureau Annual Report (KCSB) 2016, State of Kuwait

Schimke, Ann. (2017) “Pollution from Traffic Poses Risk to Schools.”  Denver Post, 2017

Taiwan Air Quality Monitoring Network, Environmental Protection Administration


Edith W. King email:

Salwa Al Darwish, email:

Salwa Al Darwish is associate professor in the College of Basic Education Public Authority for Applied Education Training, Kuwait.

Lichiu Lee  

Lichiu Lee is associate professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Feng Chia University, Taichung, Taiwan. 


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