The Environmental Audit Committee argues air pollution is a “public health crisis” causing nearly as many deaths as smoking.

It also suggested a scrappage scheme for diesel cars to cut emissions.The UK government said it was “investing heavily” in clean air, but campaigners said it was ignoring the issue.

There are an estimated 29,000 deaths annually in the UK from air pollution.

Nitrogen dioxide is known to cause inflammation of the airways, reduce lung function and exacerbate asthma. Particulate matter – tiny invisible specks of mineral dust, carbon and other chemicals – are linked to heart and lung diseases as well as cancer. Some particulate matter lodges in the lungs, while the finest particles can enter the bloodstream, risking damage elsewhere in the body.

Joan Walley, the committee chairwoman, told the BBC: “There is a public health crisis in terms of poor air quality. “There are nearly as many deaths now caused by air pollution as there are from smoking, so the main thing is we stop a new generation of children being exposed.” She said government “should make it impossible” for new schools, care home or health clinics to be built in pollution hotspots. She added that “well over a thousand” schools were already near major roads and that it “made sound economic sense” to filter the air coming into the buildings.

The committee’s report says traffic is responsible for 42% of carbon monoxide, 46% of nitrogen oxides and 26% of particulate matter pollution. It said government had promoted diesel vehicles as they produced less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But the committee said diesel was now seen as “the most significant driver of air pollution in our cities”.