Health groups call on the leaders of the Western Balkan countries to harmonize national air quality standards with the World Health Organization Global air quality guidelines. Health experts should be actively involved in these decision-making processes to ensure the timely integration of public health measures into environmental policies. Compliance with WHO recommendations brings multiple benefits – reduced incidence of chronic diseases and premature deaths, reduced overall health costs and, most importantly, better health and higher productivity of people.
Brussels, 19 June 2019 – Air quality inside and outside of primary schools across Europe must be improved in order to protect children’s health and ensure optimal learning, shows a new HEAL report entitled “Healthy Air, Healthier Children”. One of the largest investigations in schools to date, HEAL’s citizen science initiative measured indoor and outdoor air pollutants around 50 primary schools in six EU capitals. The report underlines that good air quality in schools should be a priority for policy action at local, national and EU level, as children are more at risk from harm of polluted air. HEAL’s study also points to the need for linking health and energy efficiency considerations, in the current drive to climate-proof schools and other public buildings across Europe.
‘As a teacher, I want to enable the best learning and healthy environment for our children. I was quite surprised to learn that polluted air from outside travels into our classrooms to such an extent. I now want to talk to school staff and the parents about what we can do inside and outside our school for clean and healthy air.’ said Yolanda Caneda, Allen Edwards School (London).
Air pollution is the number one environmental threat to health in the European region and globally, leading to 400,000 premature deaths and hundreds of billions of euros in health costs in the EU each year. Evidence demonstrates that children are particularly at risk of being harmed by polluted air. Itcan increase a child’s risk of developing asthma. Air pollution can lead to an increase in the number and severity of asthma attacks, especially if a child lives close to a busy road. Air pollution can also impact a child’s heart, brain and nervous system development, even before birth.
‘Children want to play and learn to their best ability. This starts with clean lungs and a fresh brain. They have lungs and brains that are still developing. That makes them vulnerable to disturbances in this developing process’ explains Peter van den Hazel, International Coordinator of International Network on Children’s Health, Environment and Safety (INCHES). ‘That means children need to breathe healthy air in schools. Schools need to provide clear teaching books but also clean air.’
50 primary schools in Warsaw, Berlin, London, Paris, Madrid and Sofia participated in the HEAL investigation on air quality inside and outside primary schools during March – May 2019 and monitored particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2).
- NO2, a pollutant coming predominantly from traffic, especially diesel vehicles, was detected inside all classrooms in all of the six cities, with measurements as high as 35µg/m3 in some classrooms, close to the annual EU legal limit and WHO recommended guideline of 40µg/m3.
- In some cases, NO2 concentrations were even higher inside classrooms than outdoor at the school entrance.
- In many schools NO2 concentrations were as high as 35-43µg/m3 at the school entrances with a particularly high average measurement of 52µg/m3 at one school. These levels are averages, and are likely to have been even higher during school drop off and pick up times due to higher traffic volumes than at evenings and weekends.
HEAL’s report is not a representative analysis of schools’ indoor environments, nor an investigation of the actual health impacts on children in participating schools. The results indicate that air quality is not as good as it should be, with polluted air travelling from outside into the classrooms, high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in some schools, and higher than recommended CO2 indoor concentrations in many schools, which can affect children’s ability to concentrate and learn well.
Renovations for energy efficiency are an opportunity to address the ventilation challenges identified in HEAL’s investigation, leading to healthier learning conditions. In addition, HEAL’s study confirmed that school buildings are a crucial but often overlooked health determinant. More attention is needed to link health and energy efficiency considerations so that schools and buildings generally can be climate- and health-friendly at the same time.
Anne Stauffer, Director for Strategy and Campaigns from HEAL, said: ‘HEAL’s snapshot investigation underlines the need for policy, teacher and parent action for healthy schools. This should start with policy-makers prioritising schools in their clean air and climate efforts. It is unacceptable that the cities in our investigation, and many more in the EU, exceed the EU’s air quality standards. In cities, emissions from cars, buses and lorries are a major contributor to poor air quality, so investments should be made into not only reducing traffic around schools, for example with a ban on engine idling or restricted school streets, but also to finance those measures that will lead to a decrease in car use overall.’
Recommendations for schools and local authorities include discouraging and restricting traffic and car idling around schools, promoting active mobility, creating clean air zones. The report also encourages health professionals and patient groups to actively engage in debates on air quality and on a broader level points out the necessity of EU member states to comply with EU outdoor air quality standards. Policy-makers should also include health considerations in efforts to reduce the buildings sectors climate footprint, to ensure that schools become frontrunners for energy efficiency and health improvements across Europe.
The full report can be found here
Elke Zander, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), email@example.com, tel.: +32 (0)2 234 36 47
 http://publications.europa.eu/webpub/eca/special-reports/air-quality-23-2018/en/  https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health  http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/193108/REVIHAAP-Final-technical-report-final-version.pdf?ua=1