Impact of traffic pollution on health and wellbeing of students in naturally ventilated classrooms

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Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, February 2019, Volume 2, #44

Active learning requires consciousness. Consciousness requires thinking. Thinking drives learning. Any form of discomfort to human body will inhibit the ability to think effectively. Poor thinking leads to poor decision making and performance. This is especially important for vulnerable people – old people, the sick and children – that can easily experience discomfort. Thus, the creation of a conducive environment in a place of learning, especially for children, is very essential. Indoor air pollution is one of the major environmental concern in the classroom. Outdoor air pollution is a significant source of indoor pollution. In a rapidly developing urban environment, air pollution from traffic is a concern. Pollutants such as particulate matter, especially PM2.5 or lesser, ozone, and other contaminants related to photochemistry, diesel, and fuel oil combustion could cause health problems ranging from mild to severe.

In the bid to be energy efficient, most schools are switching from air-conditioned classrooms to naturally ventilated classrooms. Schools located near busy roads should take extra precautionary measures to prevent outdoor to indoor transport of traffic air pollutants. They should ensure such changes does not increase the number of children suffering from poor health and wellbeing resulting from exposure to traffic pollutants. They should be aware that such a decision does not compromise the students’ learning. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests strategies that could be adopted in naturally ventilated classrooms near busy roads. EPA suggests the closing of classrooms’ windows and doors during traffic peak periods. Adoption of stand-alone filtration and reduction of indoor pollution sources are also suggested. Continuous monitoring of pollutants concentrations in a classroom will also help facility managers to make informed decisions. These measures should be done with regular walkthrough investigation and feedbacks collections from classroom occupants.

It is important to note that the EPA suggestions should not be adopted as an off-the-shelf solution. Investigations should be done to understand the root cause of an indoor air quality problem. Countermeasures and follow-up measures to improve indoor air quality condition in the classroom should be based on an investigated root cause and not a predetermined root-cause. If you are building a new school, avoid busy roads.

44_Traffic Pollution and school children_IAC 44

Do you want to read more about this topic? Read the EPA document and Habre et al. (2014) paper.


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