SAMHE, or Schools’ Air Monitoring for Health and Environment, recently launched an ambitious project to monitor air quality in over 1,000 schools across the United Kingdom. This is part of a broader effort to bring attention to the importance of good air quality in schools.
The project is a dynamic collaboration comprising the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the University of York (under the purview of the Stockholm Environment Institute’s York Center), the University of Surrey, the University of Leeds, and the esteemed UK Health Security Agency. The goal is to measure the levels of air pollution in classrooms, playgrounds, and surrounding areas and provide schools with the information they need to take action to improve the air quality of their students.
Why Is Good Air Quality Important in Schools?
Air pollution has always been a significant problem in the UK. With 40,000 premature deaths estimated to be connected to poor air quality, according to the Royal College of Physicians, it is a growing issue. The daily exposure to air pollution is particularly harmful to children, who are more vulnerable to its adverse effects due to their developing respiratory systems. The problem is particularly acute in urban areas where traffic congestion, industrial activity, and domestic sources of pollution contribute to high levels of pollutants in the air. Schools are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, as they are often located near busy roads and other sources of pollution. Research shows that the air quality inside many schools is worse than outside air due to poor ventilation and building design.
The combustion of diesel fuel in engines releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere, including ozone, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter. The fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emitted by diesel vehicles contains a mixture of toxic pollutants, such as metals, organic chemicals, and acids that can harm human health and the environment. NO2, on the other hand, is mainly produced as a byproduct of burning diesel, and its concentration is higher in densely populated city centres with a high traffic volume. Several valuable resources, like https://www.emissions.co.uk, are available online that go in-depth on diesel emissions and the steps individuals can take to combat them.
The World Health Organization recommends that PM2.5 concentrations, tiny particles that can infiltrate the lungs, should not exceed 5 μg/m3 and that for NO2, levels should not exceed 10 μg/m3 per year. However, in the UK, the annual mean for NO2 in urban locations is 15.6 μg/m3. By monitoring the air quality in schools, SAMHE aims to raise awareness of the negative impact of air pollution on children’s health and well-being and encourage schools and local authorities to address the problem.
How Will SAMHE Measure Air Quality in Schools?
To measure air quality in schools, SAMHE will use advanced air quality monitoring equipment capable of detecting various pollutants and toxins in the air. This equipment will be installed throughout the school premises, including classrooms, hallways, and other common areas.
SAMHE’s air quality monitoring equipment will gather continuous data on levels of pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. These levels will be monitored in real time, and the data will be analysed using sophisticated software designed to identify patterns and trends.
SAMHE’s approach to measuring air quality in schools is evidence-based and data-driven. By gathering accurate, up-to-date information on air quality, SAMHE hopes to improve the health and well-being of students, teachers, and other school staff. Additionally, this approach should help schools to create safer and more comfortable learning environments where students can thrive both academically and socially.
What Will Schools Do with the Air Quality Data?
Once schools have access to their air quality reports, they can take action to improve the air quality for their students. This could include:
- Improving ventilation in classrooms and other school buildings
- Reducing the levels of pollution inside the school by banning idling cars outside the school gates, using green cleaning products, and reducing the use of fossil fuels
- Lobbying local authorities to improve the air quality in the surrounding area by reducing traffic, introducing low-emission zones, and increasing the provision of public transport.
In addition to these practical steps, SAMHE hopes that the data collected from schools will help to build a picture of air pollution across the UK and provide valuable information for policymakers and researchers.
SAMHE is a crucial initiative that aims to monitor air quality in over a thousand UK schools by installing air quality sensors. This project is timely, given the current focus on reducing air pollution in urban areas. It has the potential to improve the health of thousands of vulnerable children in the UK and put pressure on policymakers, local authorities, and schools to take action. It is an excellent example of combining technology, environmental awareness, and education to tackle a pressing public health issue in the UK.