Worries remain about air quality in Beijing schools

By Chen Xia
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, January 5, 2018
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This winter, Beijing has seen fewer smoggy days than in the past few years thanks to favorable weather conditions and preventative measures taken by authorities.

A child in Beijing wears a facemask for air pollution in a file photo from 2016. [Photo by Li Xiaohua / China.org.cn]

Yet, compared to international standards on hazardous fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, the city still has a long way to go in its battle against air pollution.

According to Beijing's general development plan for 2016 to 2035, the city has promised to improve its air quality in two decades' time. But for many parents, that’s too long to wait.

Indoor air quality at schools is especially worrisome because children have to spend long periods of time in classrooms. "Smog has become common in winter, and our children have to study in such a heavily polluted environment," a netizen complained on microblogging platform Sina Weibo in November, just after Beijing entered the winter season.

A study conducted by Tsinghua University may come as a relief to concerned parents. It found that treating air quality indoors is much easier than doing so outdoors. 

The study discovered that the same amount of investment in filtering devices can produce air that is 137 times cleaner inside than outside. If enough filters are installed in a classroom, the indoor air quality can be fairly good even when it is heavily polluted outside.

And the improvements would not come with a heavy price tag. According to the study, a 55-square-meter classroom accommodating 50 children would only requires 16.3 yuan (US$2.51) per student each year in order to meet the standard for air quality set by the city for 2035.

Authorities have already begun studying the feasibility of installing air cleaners in classrooms. Last January, the Beijing Municipal Education Commission launched a trial program installing air cleaners in kindergartens, primary schools and middle schools. 

But one year has passed, and there has been no news on a full implementation of the project. "Children are the future of the country. We can't afford to have their health harmed," said Dr. Kevin Mo, managing director of the Paulson Institute Representative Office in Beijing.

Although the government has recognized the necessity of installing air cleaners in schools, Mo said, it still hasn’t found a way to implement the project on a large scale due to issues of funding, evaluation and public satisfaction.

Mo said he thinks the key for the government to solve these problems is to change its mindset.

Authorities should devise a method to accurately assess the results of their programs, and ensure that funds go to schools whenever a new investment is made to improve air quality, Mo suggested.

Given that there is no national standard on indoor air quality, the city government should take the lead in setting an upper limit on air pollutants in classrooms, and make it mandatory for new school buildings, he said.

Mo advised that authorities would be better off purchasing services instead of equipment. Focus should be given to the results of improvement efforts rather than the specific technologies schools use.

He proposed that there should also be a long-term, real-time monitoring mechanism to supervise the service providers, and the data should be provided to parents to relieve their anxiety.

"We can't slow down our pace because smog is not as frequent as before," Mo warned. "On the contrary, we must be fully aware that treating air pollution is a long, arduous task, and we must gather our pace to improve air quality in schools."

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