Most schools and childcare centers in urban areas are near major roads and sometimes close to industrial pollution sources. While not always visible, the air in and around schools contains pollutants that can be damaging to children. UNICEF and the WHO cite research that shows young lungs are particularly susceptible to air pollution; exposure in childhood can lead to permanent respiratory health issues such as asthma and lung cancer. As a result, organizations such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the British Lung Foundation have issued guidance to schools in an effort to raise awareness of the risks and to recommend ways to manage the problem.
Why monitor air pollution at schools?
As awareness of air pollution and its effects, particularly on children, grows, so too does the pressure on schools to come up with an effective and co-ordinated response. The first and most logical place to start is measurement. Reliable measurement is necessary to understand the risk of exposure in and around the school environs and the effectiveness of any mitigation strategies. Schools may choose to get air quality information from government-operated monitoring stations. However, these stations can be many miles away, unrepresentative of local pollution sources and micro-climate effects, and often do not report minute by minute changes in air pollution or provide immediate alerts if pollution levels suddenly rise. Therefore, relying on government-produced air quality information may result in one of two things: A) it understates the problem for the school, or B) it overstates the problem for the school. Forward-thinking schools see air pollution monitoring at the point of exposure (POE) as an opportunity to educate and protect the young lives they are responsible for.
Opportunity to educate
Equipment used to measure air quality is by nature scientific. Providing children with the opportunity to understand air pollution by using equipment in the field gets them hands on with scientific tools. It also combines a couple of things most schools want to see more of in their curriculum: STEMs subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and environmental stewardship.
Teaching children about air pollution helps them to realise that the environment is central to life on earth. The air is a resource that we all share and must be taken care off. What we do here can affect the lives of people over there. These concepts encourage a sense of global citizenship and hopefully empower children to accept that responsibility.
Air pollution tools
To get started you need an air pollution monitor that can measure and report real-time changes in pollution levels. Other methods, such as diffusion tubes, do not give real-time information and therefore miss the opportunity to capture and mitigate high pollution events, such as during school drop-off. Real-time air pollution monitors can be fixed (like the AQY Micro Air Quality Monitoring System) or portable (see our Outdoor Air Quality Test Kit).
Aeroqual’s air pollution monitors are built on a solid scientific foundation and every monitor is rigorously calibrated at Aeroqual’s laboratory using scientific grade calibration equipment. The monitors are used by experts in the field, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and have been used everywhere from the Gobi Desert to Antarctica. Yet they have also been designed for ease of use and are therefore equally popular with schools and community groups.
Protecting children from air pollution requires actions to reduce air pollution, reduce children’s exposure to it and better monitor it.UNICEF, Clear the air for children: The impact of air pollution on children, 2016.