The school environment
We are all aware of the importance of the quality of the outdoor environment: drinking clean water, eating safe and nutritious food and breathing clean air. However, both the outdoor and the indoor environment are important for our health and well-being. The quality of the environment inside our homes and schools is particularly important, as this is where we spend so much of our time. The indoor environment is a complex microcosm that depends on many variables such as noise, temperature and air quality. It may contain various health hazards, especially for vulnerable groups such as children or those suffering from allergies or asthma.
What’s special about schools?
Poor indoor air quality may affect the health of school staff and students by contributing to the spread of respiratory infections, triggering allergic reactions or asthma attacks, or causing headaches and mental fatigue. This in turn affects the number of sick days, potentially lowering learning and teaching performance.
According to recent research, some chemical pollutants in the indoor air, known as endocrine disruptors, may have health effects after several years of exposure even at low doses. Children’s exposure to chemicals at critical stages in their physical and cognitive development may have severe long-term consequences for health. Children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of chemicals: they breathe in a greater volume of air in proportion to their weight than adults; often breathe through their mouths, thus bypassing the natural defences of the nasal passages; have greater skin contact with the floor because of their size and behaviour; and, unlike adults, may be both unaware of risks and unable to make choices to protect their health.
Health at school
Respiratory health in schools is particularly affected by air pollutants that enter the body via inhalation, with allergic subjects being at higher risk. Indoor air quality in schools may be responsible for acute health effects (e.g. respiratory irritation, asthma and allergic crises), chronic effects (e.g. chronic cough), other symptoms (headaches, nausea etc.), and lack of concentration. Symptoms commonly attributed to poor indoor air quality include headaches; fatigue; shortness of breath; sinus congestion; coughing; sneezing; eye, nose and throat irritation; skin irritation; dizziness; and nausea. Unpleasant odours are often associated with perceptions of poor air quality, whether or not they cause health-related symptoms.
Indoors and outdoors
The quality of the indoor environment is a major health concern due to the fact that most of the indoor air is a combination of pollutants emitted from building materials and consumer products used inside, and the outdoor (ambient) air. The quality of the ambient air in most cities falls far short of the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, and most of the indoor air interacts directly with the ambient air through openings that can be controlled to some extent (windows, doors etc.). The outdoor air could therefore be one of the major sources of pollution indoors. The relevance of both ambient and indoor air pollution for our health has been addressed in many WHO guidance documents .
Climate change will also influence indoor and outdoor risks: it significantly contributes to respiratory and allergy problems among children and adults due to the rise in temperature and the increase in humidity and outdoor and indoor pollution. Mitigation and adaptation measures should be introduced to reduce the harmful effects of climate change.
The Air Pack educational tool targets children and teachers in schools in order to raise awareness of the problem of (outdoor and indoor) air quality and health issues in schools. It is designed to motivate users towards a healthy school environment and sustainable lifestyle.
The Air Pack comprises three “hotspots”: Indoor Air in School; Outdoor Air at School; and Comfort in the Classroom.