The importance of Indoor Air Quality at School

Indoor air quality in schools has been receiving growing attention in recent years, as children spend a large amount of their time at school. Indoor air pollution in schools often depends on the level of environmental ventilation, which is often of poor quality. In fact, schools, being poorly ventilated, often present elevated CO2 levels, other than several pollutants such as bacteria, moulds, VOCs and PM. The concentration of these pollutants is a major issue for children and youngsters in schools often resulting in respiratory and/or allergic symptoms and diseases.

Two European studies, the Respiratory Health of Children (RESEARCH) Study** and the EU-funded Health Effects of School Environment (HESE) Study**, both using the same standardised procedure, have provided data from different countries, showing the average 1-day indoor PM10 concentration in schools across Europe (See the image below).

Average 1-day indoor concentrations of particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter <10 μm (PM 10) measured in classrooms in various European countries. The line at 50 μg·m -3 represents the EU max daily value allowed for outdoors environments.

The interesting fact is that European countries have a PM concentration threshold of 50 μg·m -3 as a max daily value for outdoor environments, while in most countries indoor PM10 values in Schools are significantly higher than outdoors. ***

So, indoor environments contribute significantly to exposure to air pollutants, as people spend most of their time – almost 90% – indoors.

Indoor air quality is influenced by penetrating outdoor air, specific indoor pollution sources and lack of air recirculation. Some pollutants may be even 2–5 times more concentrated indoor than outdoor. This an issue we have known for a long time. In fact, workplace indoor exposure is conventionally treated as ‘occupational exposure’, but that is not always the case of schools.

In fact, the EU-funded European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA), has recently pointed out that Indoor Air Quality in schools is largely ignored in many countries.****

High levels of common indoor pollutants can frequently be found in schools, mainly because of poor building construction and maintenance, poor cleaning and, most importantly, poor ventilation. That is something we should quickly fix as Indoor Air Quality is particularly important for children, who, because they are still developing their defence mechanisms, inhale a higher volume of air per bodyweight than adults.

The Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER), an independent scientific committee managed by the Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Commission, reported that more than 900 different compounds have been detected in indoor air, and most of them derive from human activity. CO2 is a product of human respiration, and elevated levels may be reached in crowded indoor environments with inadequate air exchange. Allergens – mainly related to dust, damp, pets or insects, but also penetrating from outdoors – and infectious agents play an important role in indoor pollution, as exposure to indoor pollutants increases the risk of several respiratory/allergic symptoms or diseases like asthma, for example.

Indoor Air Quality is fundamental in improving the overall quality of life and productivity of children and adolescents, especially if they are already dealing with respiratory diseases. The installation of mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems are an effective allergen-reducing intervention, resulting in a significant decline in respiratory problems, such as breathlessness during exercise, wheezing, and coughing.

So, increasing and improving ventilation and Indoor Air Quality in schools equals to improving respiratory health of our children and youngsters. This is a subject matter that is developing growing interest, and programmes and public health initiatives to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution will be soon a reality that facilities like schools will have to be ready to deal with. Will you be ready as well?

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** SEARCH: School Environment And Respiratory Health of Children; HESE: Health Effects of School Environment.

***  Indoor Air Pollution in Schools (