Air quality around schools: Part I - A comprehensive literature review across high-income countries

Stephanie Osborne, Onyekachi Uche, Christina Mitsakou, Karen Exley, Sani Dimitroulopoulou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Children are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental health impacts of poor air quality. In the UK, recent initiatives at local council level have focussed on mitigating children's air pollution exposure at school. However, an overview of the available evidence on concentration and exposure in school environments - and a summary of key knowledge gaps - has so far been lacking. To address this, we conducted a review bringing together recent academic and grey literature, relating to air quality in outdoor school environments - including playgrounds, drop-off zones, and the school commute - across high-income countries. We aimed to critically assess, synthesise, and categorise the available literature, to produce recommendations on future research and mitigating actions. Our searches initially identified 883 articles of interest, which were filtered down in screening and appraisal to a final total of 100 for inclusion. Many of the included studies focussed on nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulate matter (PM) in both the coarse and fine fractions, around schools across a range of countries. Some studies also observed ozone (O3) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) outside schools. Our review identified evidence that children can encounter pollution peaks on the school journey, at school gates, and in school playgrounds; that nearby traffic is a key determinant of concentrations outside schools; and that factors relating to planning and urban design – such as the type of playground paving, and amount of surrounding green space – can influence school site concentrations. The review also outlines evidence gaps that can be targeted in future research. These include the need for more personal monitoring studies that distinguish between the exposure that takes place indoors and outdoors at school, and a need for a greater number of studies that conduct before-after evaluation of local interventions designed to mitigate children's exposure, such as green barriers and road closures. Finally, our review also proposes some tangible recommendations for policymakers and local leaders. The creation of clean air zones around schools; greening of school grounds; careful selection of new school sites; promotion of active travel to and from school; avoidance of major roads on the school commute; and scheduling of outdoor learning and play away from peak traffic hours, are all advocated by the evidence collated in this review.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110817
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by Public Health England .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Children
  • Commuting
  • Exposure
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • School


Dive into the research topics of 'Air quality around schools: Part I - A comprehensive literature review across high-income countries'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this