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'The wheels on the bus make toxic air': Parents call for action on pollution

Graffiti showing adapted nursery rhymes were unveiled in Kingston to push politicians for affordable, emission-free public transport to cut air pollution

The Mums for Longs air pollution graffiti stencil outside Kingston rail station

Parents, health workers and young people across London are calling for the next Mayor to take serious action on air pollution in disadvantaged areas. Image: Environmental Defense Fund Europe

A group of teen activists fighting air pollution for Black and brown communities have launched a hard-hitting graffiti art campaign which sees nursery rhymes adapted to warn parents and children about toxic air.

Mums for Lungs and Choked Up have joined health workers in London to put pressure on the next Mayor of London to take serious action on dangerous air pollution in the city’s most deprived areas.

“The wheels on the bus make toxic air,” one graphic reads, which will greet commuters outside outside Kingston station. 

The stencils are designed to raise awareness of air pollution
Kingston air pollution stencil
The stencils create a "playground" in Kingston, one of the city's areas worst affected by air pollution. Image: Environmental Defense Fund Europe

Another says: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall because Humpty Dumpty had an asthma attack.”

There are no electric buses through Kingston despite high levels of air pollution, with asthma-related hospital admissions for young children rising 47 per cent above the average rate for England.

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Only three per cent of routes in the whole of London are electric, but none of the £3 billion pledged by the Prime Minister for clean buses will be spent in the city.

“For families who live close to a busy bus route – which is a large percentage of Londoners – there is the constant anxiety of the impact it is having on your child,” said Jemima Hartshorn, a South London parent who campaigns with Mums for Lungs.

“We need the next Mayor of London to commit to all buses becoming zero emissions, whilst ensuring they are the most affordable and accessible way to get around.”

Air pollution from diesel buses is 62 per cent higher in London’s most deprived areas compared to the wealthiest, according to new research from the Environmental Defense Fund Europe, which is backing the #Mayor4CleanAir campaign.

More than 100 health workers co-signed a letter to London mayoral candidates including Shaun Bailey, Kam Balayev, Sian Berry, Valerie Brown, Piers Corbyn and current mayor Sadiq Khan.

There are no electric buses running through Kingston, making air pollution worse
Mums for Lungs air pollution stencil
There are no electric bus routes through Kingston, with diesel vehicles driving up air pollution rates. Image: Environmental Defense Fund Europe

It stressed the urgent need for affordable zero-emission public transport to be rolled out across the whole city by 2030.

“As things go back to ‘normal’, traffic and air pollution is rising again,” said Marilyn Mason, a parent and member of the Kingston Environment Forum.

“Eden Street and Cromwell Road in Kingston are two of the most polluted streets and amongst the busiest bus routes in London. Kingston’s one-way system takes all that bus traffic past several schools causing harm to children’s development.” 

“Changing to a zero-emission bus fleet is a TfL responsibility, but it seems to be all too easy to neglect the outer suburbs and our health needs when making London-wide transport policies. 

“This is no longer tolerable.”

A Government consultation on the end of diesel bus sales is under way, but none of the 4,000 zero-emission buses promised to the UK from next year have been earmarked for London so far.

“As young people we have to take the bus to get to school or to meet our friends,” said Choked Up’s Destiny Boka Batesa. “We don’t want to be risking our lives to make essential journeys. We need the next Mayor of London to rid our city of diesel and prioritise clean air so we can grow up in a safe, healthy environment.”

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