THOUSANDS of Oxford's children have been risking their health for years going to nurseries and schools which are dangerously close to illegal levels of air pollution, it has been warned.

More than 1,100 children are still at risk at seven primaries, pre-schools and colleges across the city today.

The survey by Greenpeace found every school in the country within 150 metres of roads which have illegal levels of harmful Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).

In Oxford the researchers found seven – five of them within a stone's throw of the ring road.

The toxic gas from car exhausts can cause lifelong breathing problems, such as asthma, and stunt lung growth by up to ten per cent, and experts have warned the problem needs to be urgently fixed before another generation of children is put needlessly at risk.

One of the nurseries affected is St Clements Church Preschool in East Oxford, which is next to Oxford's most polluted road.

According to latest measurements, the average level of NO2 in St Clements is 61 micrograms per cubic metre – more than 50 per cent over the EU 40mcg legal limit.

Millie Khisa, whose three-year-old son Edgar is at the preschool now, also sent her son Adrian there, and he has asthma.

The Blackbird Leys resident said: "I did not know about these levels of air pollution and it is definitely a worry.

"Adrian's asthma is brought on by air pollution so it would be good to find out what caused the spike in St Clements and see if it can be controlled."

Georgi Parpulov's daughter Zoya, four, has been going to the preschool for two years.

He said: "I was not aware of this at all – I always thought quality of air in Oxford was quite good.

"Of course it's a concern."

Pre-school supervisor Helen Clayton also said she had been completely unaware that pollution levels in St Clements were different to the rest of the city.

She admitted: "If this road has unacceptable levels of pollution that is a concern."

Latest figures from Public Health England estimate that 276 deaths in Oxfordshire could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution, including NO2, in 2014.

In the same year, just 26 people died in road traffic accidents in the county.

City councillor for the area Tom Hayes said: "This is a real public safety concern.

"It's not fair to anybody to have to breathe in polluted air, but it is especially unfair to young children, and I presume parents would not be aware of these levels of pollution.

"Academic studies have shown that particularly among young children, there is a correlation between their academic ability and the air they breath."

Oxford City Council revealed last month that efforts to cut air pollution in the city were having decreasing success.

A low-emissions zone for buses introduced in the city centre in 2014 was one of the moves that helped bring roadside NO2 down by 36.9 per cent over a decade, but between 2014 and 2016, average levels fell by just 3.9 per cent.

In many of the most polluted roads like St Aldates, High Street, St Clements and Windmill Road, the level is now plateauing above the legal limit.

The city council, which is legally required to monitor air pollution but does not control the roads, recently asked the government for more powers to tackle it.

Explore Learning, which runs tutorial sessions for children of all ages at Heyford Hill Sainsbury's, just off the Eastern Bypass, also said it wanted the Government to give Oxford City Council more powers to fight pollution.

Centre director Charlotte Butterworth said: "We are aware that new data from the city council has found air quality improvements are slowing.

"We support the council which has asked the Government for more funding and powers in tackling Oxford’s air pollution and continue to monitor the news on our surrounding pollution levels.

"We will ensure are members are fully aware and take any extra precautions required."

Pupils at North Hinksey primary, another one of the seven schools named in the Greenpeace survey, were already well aware of their risk.

In the run-up to last month's General Election they wrote to their local candidates asking for promises they would take action about it.

Rajeka Lazarus, who has two children at the school, said she was not surprised at the Greenpeace results, and said it added to the case for better monitoring in and around schools and better raising of awareness.

Speaking about Greenpeace's survey results, Chris Griffiths, a co-director of Asthma UK, warned that there was no 'safe level' of NO2.

He said: "Even toddlers in nurseries where the exposure levels are lower will also be at risk of damage to lung growth."

About 90 per cent of roadside NO2 comes from diesel vehicles.

Professor Jonathan Grigg, an expert in air pollution and children’s health at Queen Mary University of London, said: "We urgently need to reduce emissions, and the first target must be our ageing diesel fleet."

In Oxford, it is the highways authority which controls the roads therefore has the power to make changes – Oxfordshire County Council.

Hundreds of people recently signed a survey by Oxfordshire Friends of the Earth calling on the county council to produce a 'clear plan' to tackle the problem by 'sorting out Oxfordshire transport issues'.

Group spokesman Chris Church, a parish councillor for North Hinksey – one of the affected primary schools – said: "People know that we need to make some changes, and that some of those changes will cost money and may affect how people travel into the city.

"Our city was never designed to have traffic on this scale. We need to make some changes, and there is public support."

Councillor Hayes has now asked Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth to give him just five things his authority is actively doing to tackle this problem.

The question has been tabled for the next full council meeting on Tuesday, July 11.

The Oxford Mail asked Oxfordshire County Council what plans it had to bring down air pollution in the areas outside the city centre where these schools are.

Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Martin Crabtree said the authority was doing 'lots of work' with partners like the city council.

Specifically he pointed to the low-emissions zone the county and city introduced in the city centre three years ago which requires most buses to meet the European Union's Euro V emissions standard which limits NO2 emissions to 2g/kWh.

He also said the county is 'supporting' Oxford City Council in its plans to instal electric car charging points around the city, and he pointed out that the county runs two of the three park and ride car parks in Oxford.

Mr Crabtree also said the county was building better cycling infrastructure, 'as you will see on the Access to Headington scheme'.

The county has also recently jointly invested £30,000 with the city council in investigating the creation of a zero-emissions zone in the city centre from 2020.