The health and wellbeing of school children is a top priority for parents and school staff alike, our most precious commodities are sent off to learn 195 days of the year, so naturally we would expect that they are provided with an environment that is conducive to learning.
Culinary celebrities lobbied tirelessly with the support of the media to get the nutritional bar raised in schools and we have seen a significant change in school cafeteria culture as a result, the Gov.UK site sets out the standards for maintained schools and academies that limits the amounts of fried or battered food served and bans vending machines in schools. As adults, the majority of us have enough knowledge and personal experience to know the adverse effects that high levels of sugar can have on our ability to absorb information and work to the best of our ability.
So, with regards to school, and in some respect adult, lunches and snacks on offer, we can be rest assured that the world is taking other elements of school life into consideration. Next on the agenda to be addressed is indoor air quality (IAQ); the notion of well-ventilated classrooms has been acknowledged for 150 years, however over the last 20 years the issue of poor indoor air quality has been raising concern. Advances in construction has led to a higher level of synthetic materials being used and the rise of eco-friendly, low carbon buildings have meant that the modern structures are more air tight than ever before.
Particles found in indoor air have the ability to reduce the capacity that both adult and children’s bodies have to resist infection and can aggravate allergies as well as respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. Common contaminants include fine combustion particles from cars and the burning of fossil fuels, large organic particles like fungal spores, small bio particles such as viruses and bacteria, which are particularly prevalent in schools. Moving into the gases, high levels of CO2 is a common problem in classrooms, and although it is non-toxic, it is known to have a large negative impact on concentration levels, energy levels and general well-being. However, the classroom is not exempt from toxic gases Nitrogen Oxide, Sulphur Dioxide and Formaldehyde have all been found residing in warm classroom air.
A WHO survey reported that with their lungs still developing, children and young people may be more susceptible to the effects that poor indoor air quality than adults, they also state, “Healthy indoor air is recognized as a basic right. People spend a large part of their time each day indoors: in homes, offices, schools, health care facilities, or other private or public buildings. The quality of the air they breathe in those buildings is an important determinant of their health and well-being. The inadequate control of indoor air quality therefore creates a considerable health burden. Indoor air pollution – such as from dampness and mould, chemicals and other biological agents – is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide”
Sick building syndrome was officially labelled as a disease in 1983, caused by exposure poor indoor air quality on a regular basis. It is heavily associated with offices, and puts into question the impact that in has on the nations productivity and ultimately, economy – but is just as predominant in schools and is a major concern to teachers. The problem faced in schools is the struggle between opening windows and potentially creating a distraction caused by outside noise, as well as letting cold air in and valuable warmth out during winter months.
John Ellingham, Director at CanopyUK, one of the UKs leading Ventilation and Extraction companies has first-hand experience with the impact of poor indoor air quality in schools, “Both of my children attend a local school in Peterborough and it was obvious when we went to watch school plays and assembly’s how quickly the space would fill up with CO2, you could see the physically see the impact it had on the children as well as feel it yourself. I was concerned about the effect that environment could have on other areas of learning, so installed one of our Air Movement systems into the school, the Head Teacher has already commented on the difference it has made to the environment and the children.”
As well as Air Movement systems that provide fresher and more comfortable environments, there is new, state of the art technology that schools could implement to monitor the quality of the air inside the classrooms and offices, such as portable analysers and probes that indicate the level of CO2 and harmful gases and particles in the environment. Since there is currently no official government initiative to address the issue of poor indoor air quality, it will be the schools and businesses that need to take a more comprehensive approach to prevent any issues that this could be having on the performance and productivity within their premises.