Is the state of classrooms responsible for the asthma of thousands of children in France? If classroom air was less polluted in elementary schools, several tens of thousands cases of asthma could be avoided in France every year, estimates a study published Tuesday, which calls for increased efforts on this public health issue.
We already knew that the air in classrooms is polluted and poorly renewed, in particular thanks to recent work by the Indoor Air Quality Observatory. But this new study allows a first quantified assessment of the impacts on children’s health.
“Nearly 30,000 cases of asthma could thus be avoided each year in children aged 6 to 11 by reducing exposure to formaldehyde – a “marker of pollution from internal sources” – via air aeration-ventilation actions and nearly 12,000 cases of wheezing by eradicating the presence of visible mold in classrooms,” according to the public health agency’s findings.
Formaldehyde, air renewal, mold
From construction materials to furniture, including school supplies and cleaning products, there can be multiple sources of pollutants in classrooms. And, without sufficient ventilation, students can be exposed to a potentially harmful chemical cocktail.
After this “first estimate suggesting a significant benefit on child health” from reduced pollution, other studies must complete and refine the knowledge, sometimes locally. Given the “public health issue” of air quality in establishments, which accommodate 12 million students each year, it is important to continue reducing sources of exposure and improve ventilation, pleads the agency.
During his second presidential campaign and two years after the start of the Covid pandemicEmmanuel Macron had promised to launch “immediately a massive effort to purify the air in our schools, our hospitals and all public buildings”, insisting on 50,000 deaths due to pollution, “including some children”.
But, at the end of August 2023, a group of doctors and associations still warned of poor indoor air quality “in too many schools” and called on the President of the Republic to keep his promise. The general secretary of FSU-Snuipp, the first primary union (nursery and elementary), Guislaine David, recalls “that at the time of the Covid crisis, there was a lot of talk about air purifiers, but the Ministry of Education did not enjoin mayors to provide these devices.”
Effects on learning
“A few CO2 sensors were installed in certain places, but they were often stored in the canteens,” regrets this union official. As for the insufficient ventilation of classes, Guislaine David points out several difficulties: rooms on upper floors where opening the windows can be dangerous, “often obsolete” equipment (windows not easy to open for example) and “ventilation too small” .
“When there are pollutants, children are always more affected because of their young age and because they are in the same class all day,” she warned, denouncing “a health scandal not taken into account.” charge “. “It’s expensive to renovate schools or build new ones.”
In addition to harming their physical health, indoor air pollution can also affect children’s learning. “In recent years, several studies have shown that the increase in CO2 in classrooms is associated with a reduction in cognitive and academic performance,” says SpF.