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Why is Indoor Air Quality so Important for Schools?

George Woo RHP CIEC – Principal Consultant, Green Building & IAQ

MOST people know that when the skyline looks hazy with smog and the Hong Kong Air Pollution Index is over 100, breathing the air can be harmful. But did you know the air inside your home, office or school can make you sick?

In fact, the Environmental Protection Department in all major counties have already rated indoor air pollution among the top environmental health risks because we spend 90 percent of our time indoors. Really? Yes, just add up the time you spend at home, at work or school, on public or private transportations, meals and other entertainment. Over the past 40 years, exposure to indoor air pollutants has proven to cause major impacts in our health. Carcinogenic chemical emitted from building material, microbial cross infections such as influenza, Norovirus, SARS, Avian Flu, and other respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis are affecting our family’s health daily. To make matters worse, those who are most susceptible to indoor air pollution are children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses. Children breathe in 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults do. US Environmental Agency (EPA) studies have found that pollutant levels indoor can be two to five times higher than outdoors. After some activities, indoor air pollution levels can be 100 times higher than outdoors.

There is good news and bad news about indoor air: the bad news is that indoor air often contains higher concentrations of hazardous pollutants than outdoor air; however, the good news is that everyone can reduce indoor air pollution.

Often, it is difficult to determine which pollutant or pollutants are the sources of a person’s ill health, or even if indoor air pollution is the problem. Many indoor air pollutants cannot be detected by our senses (e.g., smell) and the symptoms they produce can be vague and sometimes similar, making it hard to attribute them to a specific cause. Some symptoms may not show up until years later, making it even harder to discover the cause. Common symptoms of exposure to indoor air pollutants include: headaches, tiredness, dizziness, nausea, itchy nose, and scratchy throat. More serious effects are asthma and other breathing disorders and cancer.

Children and elderly may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults. According to Health Canada, an estimated of 8% of adults and 12% of children are asthmatic. Most of the asthma cases among elementary school-age children could be prevented by controlling exposure to indoor allergens: biological (mould, house dust mite, etc.) and chemical (formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, etc.) Another major concern is influenza which can easily be cross transferred inside a school or other indoor areas.

Our children spent most of their time in school and the lack of knowledge in Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and Indoor Environment (IE) is a critical concern. Being one of the major voluntary bodies in Hong Kong devoted in air quality, Clear the Air is launching an IAQ for Schools Program in Hong Kong from April 2008. This program includes assessment, education and planning for schools to effectively improve their indoor air quality and most important, maintain it at an acceptable level.

All schools are welcome to participate in this program. Please contact George Woo at as well as his mobile : 9802 9478 if you require more information.

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