Greenpeace: ‘air polluted in 6 out of 10 Belgian schools’
In 61% of Belgian school areas the air is polluted, in only 3% good air quality is measured, as is the conclusion of a large-scale study executed by Greenpeace in 222 Belgian schools, of which 64% in Flanders, 17% in Brussels and 19% in Wallonia.
Almost half of them (46%) are situated in rural areas, 54% in urban zones. The ones in rural areas nonetheless not being the most ‘healthy’ schools.
The study took four weeks, from mid-November to mid-December. “Results are alarming and there is a real need for action”, says Greenpeace’s Mobility and Air Quality expert Joerie Thijs.
In the air samples the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was measured, which is usually a good indicator for pollution and related to the emissions of diesel cars.
Greenpeace considered pollution of 20 micrograms NO2 per cubic metre or more “mediocre air quality”, and even called pollution of 40 micrograms – today’s standard – “legally unacceptable”.
In the classroom
In its conclusion Greenpeace states that the air quality in schools is frankly worrisome and even alarming in 6 out of 10 schools, with levels beyond 20 micrograms.
In one-third of the schools (76 schools) the air quality was “acceptable” (between 10 and 20 micrograms), and in only 3% of all schools (7 schools) a good air quality – less than 10 micrograms per cubic metre – was measured.
Air samples were not only taken at the school gate but also in the playground and in the classrooms. They still showed a concentration of more than 20 micrograms of NO2 in 52% of the schools, probably due to a lack of ventilation. The results also measured an unhealthy high concentration of CO2. Only 10 schools proved to have a healthy air quality.
A remarkable fact is that there is more pollution during the typical school hours. The presence of a motorway in the neighbourhood of the school is an important factor for pollution too.
For Greenpeace the results of the study prove that air pollution should be tackled on all political levels. “Schools cannot solve this on their own”, says Thijs.
“Politicians have an important part to play. Diesel cars should be removed out of the showrooms and out of the traffic. We also need a better infrastructure for pedestrians and speed limits of 20 kph in school areas.”
Higher risk for asthma and allergies
The Association for Respiratory Health Care and Tuberculosis Control, (Vereniging voor Respiratoire Gezondheidszorg en Tuberculosebestrijding, VRGT) also pleads to bring the standard level of 40 micrograms NO2 per cubic metre down to 20 micrograms.
“Children’s lungs are unfortunately the best filters for polluted air”, concludes VRGT’s general manager Wouter Arrazola de Oñate, “but the air pollution increases the risk for asthma and allergies, and has a negative impact on their cognitive development.”