CHILDREN in Oxford will urge parents to cut their engines while waiting at the school gates in a new health campaign by Oxford City Council.

In a first-of-its-kind partnership with Oxford Friends of the Earth, the authority is hoping to raise awareness of the toxic effects of car exhaust fumes on children.

Air pollution, which causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, is linked to health problems from childhood illnesses to heart disease and dementia.

A study published just this month also found pregnant mothers’ exposure increased the likelihood of their children having brain abnormalities.

Oxford Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Fiona Tavner said: “Tackling Oxford’s air pollution problem urgently requires a number of different approaches.

“Turning off your vehicle’s engine when stationary is a simple action.

“It is one way that we can collectively help to make a difference to air quality.”

The ‘Oxford Air Needs Your Care’ campaign will see schoolchildren survey idling engines at the school gate and learning about the health impact of air pollution.

Council air quality officer and members of Friends of the Earth will visit schools to show children measures they and their parents can take to cut emissions.

Initially focussing on schools, the campaign will then widen out, encouraging motorists across the city to switch off whenever stationary for extended periods.

The council and Friends of the Earth are also running a competition for schoolchildren to design a campaign poster.

Idling engines can produce up to twice as many fumes as a car in motion.

Those include carbon monoxide, ‘particulate matter’ and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Many streets across Oxford are still breaching EU legal limits of NO2 despite years of efforts to tackle the problem.

In July, a Greenpeace survey found more than 1,100 children at seven primaries, pre-schools and colleges across Oxford were within 150m of roads with illegal levels of NO2 – mostly the Oxford ring road.

In November the National Education Union and British Lung Foundation urged schools to install air pollution monitors and encouraged families to walk or cycle to school to help keep children safe from ‘toxic air’.

Oxford City Council member for environment, John Tanner, said he was ‘thrilled’ to have established the new partnership with Friends of the Earth.

He went on: “The message to parents and everyone else is switch it off if you are parked anywhere near a school gate.

“Better still, park further away and walk the last few metres to the school. It’s safer, saves money and keeps you fit, as well as cleaning the air.

“We all have a part to play in cleaning up Oxford’s air, whether it’s going electric, cycling or switching off your engine.

“Our children most of all have the right to breathe clean air everywhere.”