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How safe are our children’s classrooms?

The readings from the monitors installed inside classrooms showed that the PM2.5 levels of indoor air were 5 times over Indian safety limits, and as much as 11 times that of the WHO safety limits.

Policy Pulse
Publish Date: Dec 28 2015 2:12PM | Updated Date: Jan 2 2016 4:44PM

How safe are our children’s classrooms?File: photo

In December 2015 Greenpeace India released data from 24-hour monitoring of indoor air quality conducted by the organisation over seven days, in seven schools across Delhi; readings from the monitors installed inside classrooms showed that the PM2.5 levels of indoor air were 5 times over Indian safety limits, and as much as 11 times that of the World Health Organisation’s safety limits. PolicyPulse spoke to Sunil Dahiya, Campaigner, Greenpeace India about some of these issues, which schools, parents and the government need urgently to consider to ensure that our children are safe in schools and homes.

 

According to the UN Environment Program, 90% of air pollution in major cities in developing countries can be attributed to vehicle emissions. This is because of a high number of older, more pollution emitting vehicles, poor vehicle maintenance, inadequate infrastructure and low fuel quality.

 

Among the wide range of air pollutants generated by vehicle emissions, small particles of less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10) and fine particles of less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5) have an adverse affect on public health. 

 

Such particles that carry elemental carbon or carbon compounds, heavy metals and sulphurs, and also carcinogens e.g. benzene derivatives, bypass the body's usual defences against dust, penetrating and lodging deep in the respiratory system. 

 

Long-term exposure to such elevated levels of small and fine particulates is associated with reduced lung function, increased incidence of respiratory disease and quantifiable rates of reduced life expectancy.

 

It is a no-brainer that children are the most vulnerable to chronic respiratory illnesses associated with exposure to such pollution. 

 

In the first week of December, the NGO Greenpeace India, released data from a 24-hour monitoring of indoor air quality the organisation had conducted over seven days, in seven schools across Delhi. 

 

The readings from the monitors installed inside classrooms showed that the PM2.5 levels of indoor air were 5 times over Indian safety limits, and as much as 11 times that of the World Health Organisation’s safety limits. 

 

1.Is the indoor quality at homes better than at schools? Especially if we are talking about children in slums, near construction sites, at-risk areas?

 

Home/Schools geometry plays a role in circulation of air and accumulation of pollutants in closed environments. But ambient/outdoor pollution plays a big role in determining the indoor air quality. So, the indoor air quality at home will be definitely similar to what it is in schools, and certainly in a case when we talk about high risk areas. 

 

The only difference in school and home can be that we can restrict our physical activities at home and we can just breath the minimum amount of air having hazardous pollutants at home rather than in schools because of being involved in walking, running or playing etc during which we inhale more air.

 

2. Do pollution levels rise during the drop and pick-up times because of the movement and idling of cars and buses around schools?

 

Yes, it does increase the pollutant concentrations during drop and pick up. But apart from that, there are many other sources apart from traffic which contributes to air pollution and that concentration from those sources will always be there until a comprehensive plan to reduce all such sources comes up.

 

3.How much would it help if every child had to use school buses or shared transport to school. 

 

Yes, it helps in reducing pollution to a certain level by switching to public or common transport rather than having one car per child. Along with reducing pollution, it will also conserve energy and fuel and will reduce overall environmental and economical burden on public, schools as well as governments.

 

4.What impact do you think the Delhi govts odd-even no. plate scheme have? 

 

We definitely welcome this step by Delhi government because it urges public to use public transport, which will solve many problems such as:

 

a)    Reducing congestion on the roads and public places etc.

b)    It will reduce on-road pollution levels

c)     It will save lots of fossil fuels and in turn energy

d)    It will help us achieve climate change reduction goals by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

e)    It will also prove to be economical to people and governments in longer run

f)     And this will spread awareness among people to be sensitive towards environment we live in, increasing pollution levels and the need to care for it by reducing or limiting our activities which are hazardous to pollution levels.

 

We believe that looking at only one sector, be it vehicles, industry or biomass burning is not going to solve the problem of air pollution. We have to come up with a comprehensive and systematic plan to combat air pollution, which is not only restricted to Delhi, but includes larger areas due to trans-boundary travel of air and pollutants in it as well as includes multiple sectors which are contributing to the problem.

 

Data collected:

Date collected     School locality         Average PM (ug/m3)

26.10.2015                     School 1                          107.6

28.10.2015                     School 2                          48.37

29.10.2015                     School 3                          141.9

03.11.2015                     School 4                          419.29

04.11.2015                     School 5                          329.49

06.11.2015                     School 6                          629.98

09.11.2015                     School 7                          365.81

Average concentrations 291.7771429