Indoor pollution in schools and nurseries, a real health problem in the UK
Indoor air pollution mainly concerns the most sensitive people in our society. It can lead to asthma, allergies headaches, dizziness, irritation, and other problems, especially respiratory problems. Among the most vulnerable populations are children.
This is why air quality in elementary and nursery schools as well as in day-care centres is subject to special and reinforced control by law. But this control is not enough: rules are imposed to prevent British children from being exposed to excessive levels of pollution. Their health is more fragile and they are more sensitive to poor indoor air quality.
Indeed, it is important to know that in school buildings there are multiple sources of pollutant emissions. Examples include building materials, furniture, cleaning products, heating and cooking appliances, materials used for activities such as paint or glue, school supplies… in short, the sources of indoor pollution are very numerous and as diverse as they are varied within nurseries and schools.
While it is essential to reduce indoor air pollution in classrooms and nurseries, it has also been shown that good indoor air quality (including excellent ventilation) has many benefits.
For example, there is better learning, less fatigue, less absenteeism, better health and increased well-being for all the young occupants of the premises… and the not so young!
Air pollution is a problem that concerns you. To clean up your indoor air and eliminate pollutants, analyse your environment with the indoor module of the Netatmo Smart Weather Station. Receive real-time data on the comfort of your home and be alerted when it's time to air out to reduce indoor pollution.
A regulatory system for monitoring air quality in schools and nurseries
In terms of limiting indoor pollution in establishments where children are present (a sensitive audience), there is a law to be aware of. The law on the national commitment to the environment made it compulsory to monitor indoor air quality in schools and nurseries.
To go further, let us quote articles L. 221-8 and R. 221-30 and follow the Environment Code, which is those that set out the exact rules to be applied in terms of air quality and indoor pollution. Schools and nurseries are concerned, but so are leisure centres, secondary schools, and high schools.
The reason for this regulation is that analyses have shown that the concentration of pollutants in the air is higher in schools than elsewhere. This is mainly due to the sources of pollution mentioned above, but also to the density of occupation of the premises and sometimes to inadequate air renewal.
Decree No. 2015-1000 of August 17th, 2015 set a deadline for the 1rst of January 2018 for nursery schools, elementary schools, and nurseries. They, therefore, have no choice but to adapt, monitor air quality, and fight against its pollution.
The government has therefore committed itself through the laws mentioned above to reduce exposure to the main sources of indoor air pollution in places open to the public, especially those whose health is most sensitive: children. But among promises, obligations, and facts, what is going on? What is the indoor air quality in schools and nurseries?
It all depends on the location. This varies greatly depending on the school or nursery studied. But what is certain is that there are still too many pollutants and that the air quality inside these establishments still needs to be improved. Children's health is at stake after all.
Which pollutants should be tackled to improve air quality in nurseries and schools?
The worst enemies of clean and healthy air in schools and nurseries are often the same as in your home: volatile organic compounds or VOCs. You may have already heard of formaldehyde or benzene in this context, which are among the main enemies to be eliminated.
Their health effects are dangerous, yet they continue to affect indoor air quality by contributing significantly to indoor pollution in both public and private places.
The first, formaldehyde, has been recognised as an irritant and carcinogen. However, it is still found in many types of glue, paints, binders, and adhesives. For the dangerous but widespread VOC, formaldehyde, a guideline value has been set: long-term exposure at 30 µg/m³ until 2023, then 10 µg/m³.
Benzene is another VOC that is a carcinogen with very harmful hematological effects. It is emitted by combustion: cigarettes, chimneys, exhaust gases, etc. The guideline value for this pollutant is 2 µg/m³ since 1 January 2016.
Although these "guide values" attributed to each VOC have been determined on the basis of expert opinions from ANSES, the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety, and the HCSP, the French High Council for Public Health, it is still recommended that these substances be avoided at all costs. This will improve indoor air quality and the health of the inhabitants.
Daycare centres, schools, and other places that receive sensitive members of the public are on the way to more breathable air and free from indoor air pollution. But this road is still long and despite the efforts of the public authorities to limit indoor pollution, the institutions themselves will have to step up their work to ensure better health and a more peaceful future for our children.