PARENTS leaving their engines running at the school gates have been given a lesson in pollution by Cowley pupils.

Year 8 and 9 students from St Gregory the Great approached 50 vehicles last week, passing out leaflets and window stickers.

It is part of a scheme by Oxford City Council and Friends of the Earth to raise awareness of the dangers to children from toxic fumes produced by idling cars.

There are an estimated 40,000 premature deaths each year due to air pollution in the UK, making it the biggest environmental killer.

Year 8 student Duanne Souza said: “Everyone we spoke to accepted that idling was a bad thing to do.

“Nitrous dioxide is an invisible killer, that we want to make visible by conducting experiments in measuring NO2 levels around school and around Cowley.”

Classmate Cillian Phillips added: “This is a fun project, with a serious outcome for all of us. We share the air we breathe, and we share the responsibility to make our environment better.”

Cowley city councillor David Henwood, who was with the youngsters, said all parents and visitors were positive towards the scheme, and welcomed a ‘gentle nudge’ to turn off their engines.

He added air pollution around the school would soon be monitored to identify any change in the condition of air quality.

Mr Henwood said: “My ambition is to use education to inform solutions, we aim to monitor not just air quality at St Gregs, but also in the wider context of Cowley, and who knows if there is a political will we will encourage other organisations such as community centres and residential areas to also participate.”

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

These include carbon monoxide, ‘particulate matter’ and nitrogen dioxide .

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.

As the project grows, 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 to encourage motorists across the city to switch off whenever stationary for extended periods.

When the partnership launched in March, Oxford City Council member for environment, John Tanner, said: “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.”