If India want to Achieve Net Zero Targets — Then focus must be on Indoor Air Quality
Schools are an important aspect of our society’s framework. We must provide the best possible infrastructure for our children’s education as future generations are to take charge and tackle global challenges. It should not just be about practical and theoretical principles, but also about classroom climate that is conducive to learning. Between the ages of 6 and 19, children spend up to 8–10 hours a day in the classroom, accounting for over 20% of their life-time.
Since the breakout of the new Coronavirus in early 2020, schools have been closed for extended periods of time. The reopening of schools has been diluted for the past two years due to the concerns of viral transmission among students. The majority of “no” conventional schools have had a negative impact on the children. Due to online lessons, they were Zoomed out and confronted challenges such as mental health, physical fitness (due to less physical mobility), and even vision impairments.
With most states in India have begun in-person school from February 1, what should the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) and rigorous rules be in order to allow children to return to school? Where should the emphasis be placed? How will the SOPs be properly followed and monitored?
Masks, social distancing, and hand sanitization are the three most crucial rules. Is that it? Or are we overlooking a crucial solution to a long-standing unsolved dilemma, how to limit children’s exposure to indoor air pollution in schools?
Let us try to address this question: where and how are we going to pay attention to and care for the well-being and health of the future generation’s young brains so that they are robust to the consequences of climate change?
To begin, we must acknowledge that children are exposed to ambient air pollutants on a daily basis, regardless of where they live or what they do. The degree of their exposure is determined by a variety of elements, including local environmental conditions and an individual's lifestyle, pointing us to the most essential problem - Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). The IAQ is very useful in schools to increase children's learning abilities and cognitive performance.
Second, identifying indoor pollutant sources is seldom done, despite the fact that it is a critical step in determining mitigation methods. Outdoor pollution sources such as industrial pollutants, combustion activities, and traffic congestion near schools have a significant impact on IAQ. According to studies, carbon-dioxide (CO2) is a typical measure of indoor air quality in buildings, including schools, and is the primary and important signal to know the IAQ levels and ventilation. Dust (particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10) must be measured in addition to CO2. Other gases, such as radon, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and noise levels, can also be measured.
Third, additional forms of pollutants are emitted by school buildings, surfaces, construction materials, furniture, paints, glues, or cleaning chemicals in both classrooms and restrooms, as well as peripheral equipment such as projectors and printers. VOCs and ultra-fine particles (UFP) are examples of this. Again, proper ventilation is required to remove them from the classroom air.
Fourth, according to research, in addition to monitoring pollution levels, it is necessary to maintain the indoor temperature at 25 degrees Celsius or higher and humidity between 50 and 60 percent as ideal comfort for children as a basic protocol to improve IAQ with a good HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air conditioning) system.
How IAQ can be measured?
Sensing pollutants: The first and most important requirement is to monitor and understand the levels of indoor pollution by installing air quality sensors. There are three types of indoor air quality monitors:
- Portable, handheld monitors that users may move from one area to the next. These are equipped with a display screen. This is identical to the portable IR (infrared) thermometer we use during CoVID to monitor the temperature. CO, CO2, Radon, and VOCs can be measured by these devices.
- Models that monitor the air around them and show the current conditions on a tabletop or floor.
- “Smart” air quality sensors that measure the air around them. This might be wall or table mounted. These can be linked to a smartphone app to deliver reports or alarms. Most of these sensors may be linked to a real-time dashboard that displays pollution levels as well as temperature and humidity. This assists schools in mitigating pollution and keeping parents informed about pollution levels.
It is recommended that while selecting the type of monitoring station, the ventilation and landscape of the schools be studied, as well as which pollutant to monitor, track, and mitigate.
What can we do? — Plan of Action:
This section focuses on a particular strategy and call to action that assists schools and administration in improving air quality in schools.
- The creation and execution of ventilation index is thus a significant tool to resolve indoor air pollution. IAQ ventilation requirements need the creation of a plan. The thermal comfort of a building, including temperature, relative humidity, and pressure, should be addressed. The ventilation rates and index must be defined at both the national and regional levels.
- Classroom I-AQI (Indoor Air Quality Index): We already have a mechanism for measuring Air Quality Index (AQI) for outdoor use, so we only need to create a I-AQI scale from Good to Severe using the three principal pollutants stated above. This may be gradually expanded to include other indoor settings such as hospitals, religious places, homes, offices, parks, and movie theaters.
- One School, One Monitoring Station: The installation of CO2 and PM sensors to detect, observe, and monitor pollutants with a real-time dashboard should be required. It will be useful to know how children’s performance differs during high and low pollution days throughout the year. Installation of indoor air purifiers might be viewed as one of the strategies to enhance indoor air quality based on the pollution levels that are measured on a regular basis. In locations with limited access to technology, it is recommended to open the windows for greater air circulation and to install the air monitoring station using solar-panels.
- Mitigation efforts to limit exposure to indoor air pollution at schools are needed, such as enhanced cleaning procedures that employ ecologically friendly chemicals with minimal water consumption, minimizing the use of carpet in schools, and improving ventilation with suitable windows. It is crucial to achieve low CO2 concentrations in classrooms; yet, the worldwide rise in CO2 in the environment has an impact on the primary efficiency of ventilation operations.
Given that indoor meetings are widespread in our everyday lives, whether they be religious locations, wedding, party gatherings, or movie theaters, it is high time we focus on improving Indoor Air Quality.
The health of future generations will be determined by how well classroom pollution is reduced. Every minute, a supply of good air is required. As a result, energy consumption becomes a priority in order to prevent more combustion emissions to our mother earth and the air we breathe.
Let us make certain that our children are always breathing clean air; after all, “Breathing Clean Air” is a fundamental right.