The World Health Organisation declared that air pollution is one of the greatest public health challenges the world is facing right now.

To understand where air pollution comes from, Greenpeace has conducted independent air quality measurements in different cities around the world. In the Russian capital, Moscow, the results our tests unveiled were startling.

Air pollution is one of the most important environmental problems in large cities. To solve it, Greenpeace is conducting an international campaign Clean Air Now. Many people still think that the main source of air pollution in large cities is an industry. It is not so: 80-90% of air pollution is caused by urban transport. Greenpeace initiated an independent study of air quality in different cities of Europe and Russia to draw attention to this problem and to tell about its real causes. Children are most affected by air pollution so it was decided to research the air quality near kindergartens located close to major highways in Moscow.An AQMesh air quality measurment device in Moscow. 23 June, 2017.

In Moscow, tests were conducted at five kindergartens during different weather conditions over a period of 24 hours. The results revealed that official limits for hazardous substances — including nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen monoxide and ozone — were exceeded close to areas where children live and go to school.

The highest pollution level was recorded near a children’s medical center in southwest Moscow, at the intersection of the busiest city highways — Leninsky avenue and Lomonosovsky avenue. In calm weather the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide was near 60 mgr/cubic meter — 1.5 times higher than the Russian daily mean limit.

Emissions levels around kindergardens in Moscow

Even though many people in Russia still think the main source of air pollution in large cities is industry, the reality is that 80-90% of air pollution is caused by urban transport.

Research from professor Boris Revich, Head of the Laboratory of Forecasting Environmental Quality and Public Health in the Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, revealed that children are most at risk as breathing happens closer to the ground, where concentrations of these toxic substances are significantly higher.

And, as Professor Revich explains, the problem is becoming more and more severe. When he carried out initial research several decades ago, the roads looked like “small quiet streams” compared to the terrible quality of air in the cities today.

But this is a problem that is not just impacting Russian cities. Toxic fumes pumped out by cars and trucks are damaging young lungs in cities around the world, as Professor Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric and Respiratory Medicine at Queen Mary University, explains:

“Air pollution from urban transport, especially diesel, is a serious threat to health. What’s particularly worrying is the effect on children, since these have consequences lasting decades. Exposure of children to traffic fumes which contain sooty particles and nitrogen dioxide slows the growth of the lungs, increases the risk of pneumonia and development of asthma. In children who have asthma, high pollution days may trigger more severe attacks.”

The results of Greenpeace’s tests raise concerns for children throughout Moscow. Almost 500 of the capital's 2,121 kindergartens are located within 100 meters of four-lane roads. 123 are close to six-lane roads, and 61 are close to a road with eight or more lanes.

Greenpeace Russia is inviting the Government of Moscow to address this problem by creating special areas around kindergartens and children's hospitals, where the entry of environmentally unfriendly transport should be prohibited. You can support them by signing this petition to clean up the air that children breathe.

Arin de Hoog is a content editor with Greenpeace International