How is the air quality near schools?

September 30, 2022

Table of contents

Time slot between 8.30 a.m. and 9 a.m. on a weekday. The place, the entrance to a school. Dozens of parents “unload” their children from idling cars stopped on a double queue. In the background, the roaring traffic speeding in and out of the city.

The scene looks familiar, doesn’t it?

It is a common situation that causes NO2 and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM1) levels to soar in almost all schools in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona at this time of day. However, these air quality data are usually obtained from reference stations scattered around the city. And their number and coverage, as mentioned above, may be insufficient to answer questions such as:

  • what are the levels of air quality around schools, at the school your child attends?;
  • what impact does the proximity of roads with heavy traffic cause? or
  • how does pollution behave according to weather conditions?

People are increasingly aware of the consequences of exposure to air pollution. So knowing the levels of air quality around the schools is a matter of concern for mothers and fathers. After all, the health of children is one of the main worries of any parent.

But in many cases, the only source of information available is the official monitoring network stations. However, their cost and the area they cover make it unfeasible to create a dense monitoring network that would make it possible to know the atmospheric conditions in the vicinity of each school.

The solution is to rely on innovative technologies such as those that have enabled Kunak to position itself as a benchmark in air quality measurement systems and a leading provider of equipment for monitoring in Low Emission Zones (LEZ).

How is the air quality around schools?

Air quality in school environments is a growing concern. A recent study revealed that pollution in English school environments exceeds the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation, with levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exceeding what is safe for children’s health.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels were analysed near schools, finding that pollution around schools exceeds safe levels. Children are particularly vulnerable to particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide due to their respiratory rate and immature systems, which can lead to respiratory problems such as childhood asthma.

Improvements in air quality information and awareness-raising campaigns in schools were urged and emphasised the need to promote pedestrian traffic and restrict motorised traffic to improve air quality.

The study highlights the importance of protecting children’s health from air pollution and the urgency of actions to ensure cleaner air in educational environments.

¿Cómo es la calidad del aire en el entorno de los colegios? Analizamos el impacto de la calidad del aire en el entorno de los colegios y sus efectos.

How is the air quality near schools?

Health issues due to air quality

Breathing polluted air can have serious health consequences for children. Exposure to air pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter is associated with respiratory problems, reduced lung function and exacerbation of asthma. In addition, it can affect neurological and cognitive development, impacting their ability to learn and behave. Ensuring a clean air environment is essential to protect the health and future of our children.

Childhood asthma and respiratory diseases

The presence of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air can trigger and aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma. These pollutants irritate the airways, causing inflammation and reducing lung function, resulting in shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.

Lung development in children

Children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution because their lungs are still maturing. Continued exposure to pollutants can interfere with this process, increasing the risk of chronic respiratory diseases in adulthood.

Cognitive and attention problems

Exposure to high levels of air pollutants has been associated with cognitive and attention problems in children and adolescents. This includes difficulties in problem solving, decreased IQ and increased hyperactivity.

Consequences of poor air quality in schools

Breathing poor quality air has a direct impact on students’ cognitive ability. Studies show that exposure to various pollutants can decrease attention and memory, negatively affecting academic performance. The effects are of particular concern in children, whose brain development is still in progress. It is therefore crucial to ensure a school environment with clean air to facilitate learning and promote the overall health of students.

Academic performance

Air pollution can have a negative impact on students’ academic performance. Studies suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with lower performance on cognitive tests and academic skills.

Cognitive development

Exposure to air pollution, especially traffic-related air pollution, has been linked to slower cognitive development in children aged seven to ten years, suggesting a neurotoxic effect of pollution.

¿Cómo es la calidad del aire en el entorno de los colegios? Analizamos el impacto de la calidad del aire en el entorno de los colegios y sus efectos.

Poor air quality affects children’s cognitive development and academic performance

Solutions to reduce pollution in school environments

Measuring air pollution is only the first step in designing measures to improve air quality near schools. In this sense, the collection of data will make it possible to analyse the initial situation of each school carefully and to define the most appropriate measures.

On the basis of this information, different strategies can be designed. There is no doubt that one of the most effective and forceful options is to limit traffic around schools. This is the objective of, for example, the Low Emission Zones that will come into force in 2023 in Spanish cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants and in cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants with recurrent pollution problems. In this way, it is expected that schools within the zones will experience a clear improvement in the quality of the surrounding air.

However, other initiatives can also be taken:

  • From the family level, opt for walking or public transport journeys.
  • From the local councils, adopt time restrictions on traffic in the vicinity of schools or pacify traffic by reducing speed.
  • From the sphere of social organisations and in collaboration with local governments, promote campaigns such as those designed in some cities to try to reduce the pollution caused by idling cars.

Reducing pollution in school zones is key to improving the health and well-being of students and workers. Implementing effective methods can have a significant impact on this goal. To this end, promoting the recycling of materials such as paper, plastic and glass within schools or encouraging the use of reusable products instead of disposable ones can help reduce waste.

Raising awareness throughout society, but particularly among students, of the importance of preserving natural resources and reducing the ecological footprint by organising initiatives such as clean-up and reforestation days can encourage respect for the environment. Establishing effective waste management systems and adopting greener technologies, such as solar or wind energy, are key strategies to minimise pollution in school environments.

Ventilation and air filtration

Implementing adequate ventilation systems and high-efficiency air filters in classrooms can help reduce the concentration of pollutants and improve air quality in schools.

Green spaces

The creation of green areas around schools not only improves the aesthetics and the school environment but also acts as a natural filter for air pollutants.

Environmental monitoring

Environmental monitoring is key to understanding and managing air quality in educational environments. Kunak offers advanced solutions for accurate, real-time monitoring of air quality, enabling informed decisions to be made to protect the health of students and staff.

Implementing pollution monitoring solutions such as those offered by Kunak allows the levels of multiple pollutants to be measured accurately and in real-time, being a perfect complement to the official air quality networks and reference methods that can be found in many cities.

¿Cómo es la calidad del aire en el entorno de los colegios? Analizamos el impacto de la calidad del aire en el entorno de los colegios y sus efectos.

The implementation of pollution control solutions such as those offered by Kunak allow the measurement of multiple pollutant levels

Kunak solutions for monitoring air quality around schools

These are questions that can only be answered when official networks are complemented by sensor-based stations. These devices, due to their size and ease of installation, can be attached to a lamppost or pole close to the school.

In this way, we create hybrid monitoring networks capable of providing hyper-local information.

Everybody, especially our children, deserves to live and work where the air is as clean and safe as possible. Unfortunately, the reality is far from ideal, with many of our schools unwittingly exposing children to harmful pollutants. The problem is particularly bad at schools near busy roads” Prashant Kumar, founding Director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) at the University of Surrey (European Scientist, 04/09/2022)

These solutions, moreover, not only allow us to visualise conditions outside schools. In a way, they also complement the readings that can be made by indoor quality measurement devices, popularised in the wake of the pandemic. Not surprisingly, outdoor contamination eventually penetrates inside classrooms.

In recent years, Kunak has carried out various projects to monitor air quality around schools. In this way, we have responded to concerns raised by the educational centres themselves, while also providing peace of mind to companies that carry out their activities in the vicinity of schools.

As an example of the service provided by our solutions, a Kunak AIR Pro unit was installed in the playground of Stjärnans förskola, a pre-school in Sundsvall. Installed by Acoem Sweden, one of our official distributors, the aim is to monitor airborne particles (PM10, PM2.5 and PM1) during the thawing season. Road surfaces deteriorate after months of snow cover and vehicle traffic can cause more particulate matter to be released into the atmosphere which could affect the nearby school.

Kunak AIR Pro installed in a preschool in Sweden

But how worrying is the air quality outside schools?

Generally speaking, we could say quite a lot. After all, the school-age population is considered vulnerable to prolonged exposure to high levels of pollution. This is due to their physiology, stature and activity, factors that condition their respiratory rate, which is higher than that of an adult.

The cause-effect relationship of pollution on the child population is quite complicated to demonstrate. But numerous studies suggest that air pollution may slow their cognitive development, and may also be behind the increase in cases of childhood asthma. So, while more evidence is gathered, it is worth appealing to the precautionary principle.

“Children face a considerably higher risk of neurological impacts from air pollutants. These can transfer to the bloodstream in the lungs and travel to other parts of the body including the brain, or may travel directly to the brain through the olfactory nerve in the nose” Martie van Tongeren, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health at The University of Manchester (The Guardian, 17/06/2021)

In short, we are faced with a problem, air quality around schools, that is perhaps not receiving due attention, but which can affect the health of children. It is necessary to promote and implement actions and strategies aimed at reducing the impact of air pollution near schools, but always starting from a common point: the detailed and hyper-local collection of data related to air quality.