School’s Indoor Air Quality

How often do we think about the air quality in our children’s school, where they spend almost a third of their day?

In cities with poor outdoor air quality, schools usually limit outdoor physical education and break time according to local outdoor air quality readings. But what about the quality of the indoor air?

Let’s think about it for a moment!

Studies have shown that poor air quality in schools increase absenteeism, decrease test scores and compromise staff and student productivity.

When we think of academic excellence we’ll seldom think of structural and maintenance practices that can provide the optimal environment for teachers and students to thrive. Nonetheless, leaky roofs, poor heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems (HVAC), inappropriate use of cleaning products among others can make a difference in academic excellence.

In fact, poor indoor air quality can cause asthma, respiratory infections and allergic diseases which start a spiral of effects from school absenteeism to poor performance.

What is the impact of indoor air quality in schools?

Asthma, respiratory infections and allergic diseases are commonly caused or exacerbated by moisture in HVAC system, microbiological pollutants, animal allergens, nitrogen dioxide or other combustion byproducts, chemicals in cleaning products, low ventilation, formaldehyde, dampness, mold, outdoor pollutants or vehicle exhaust.

Asthma for example is suffered by millions across the world – approximately 1 in every 10 children!  And it is the main reason students skip school in the US. Asthma can be controlled with medications after it occurs but a great deal can be done before it occurs by controlling the environmental triggers, especially in closed environments like schools.

For optimal indoor air quality in schools, we need to:

Sources:
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Printable Version of the Coordinator’s Guide for Indoor Air Quality
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Indoor Air Quality in High Performance Schools
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Managing Asthma in the School Environment

Crazy for a cruise holiday? Let’s talk air quality

A cruise is one of the most sought-after holiday destinations. The Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska, northern Europe and some areas in Asia have the largest array of Cruises with lavish restaurants and what seems like a relaxing holiday in the middle of nature but with all the conveniences of a touristy city on board. Worldwide a total of 24.2 million passengers enjoy cruises every year.

Unfortunately for cruise holiday goers, reports conducted by journalists in France and in the UK have shown that fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5 and PM 10) is particularly high on these cruise destinations.

Cruise ships are important sources of air pollution impacting the routes they cover and the cities in which they dock. One cruise ship emits the same amount of carbon dioxide as one million cars per day. We might think that this is only the trail left by the cruise, but in fact it affects also the people on the cruise. Journalists measured the air quality on the main deck and found that the concentration of fine particles was twice as high as the concentration in London’s Picadilly Circus and similar to the measurements in New Delhi, all coming from the same ship’s funnels.

Why?

Cruises use residual fuel of very low quality, it’s the fuel left after the refined fuel for cars has been extracted.  But it’s cheap and maritime global regulation is limited and difficult to enforce. Nonetheless, the International Maritime Organization has fixed  the 1st January 2020 as the date for all passenger ships to use fuel with maximum 0.5% lead content, it is now 3 times that level at 1.5%.

All cruise goers and communities living in the ports where these cruise ships dock have the right to know what they breathe. More regulation is essential, but constant monitoring on-board and off-board is essential to reassure users and communities of the air quality they are exposed to.

Meo’s air quality monitor- measures PM2.5 and PM10.

Let’s measure and take control of the air we breathe!

Sources:
Independent – Air quality on cruise ship deck ‘worse than world’s most polluted cities’, investigation finds
LaProvence – Le souffle pollué des géants des mers en Méditerranée

Architecture and Air Pollution

Architecture can have a positive or negative impact on a building’s energy efficiency. But can it effectively improve air quality?

China started recently the construction of Liuzhou Forest City, which is expected to be a satellite neighborhood completed by 2020 connected to the main city by rail. It is a wild reminder of the importance of architecture in controlling air quality in our living environments. This city is specifically designed to fight air pollution by extensive use of vegetation throughout the building façade. The design by Stefano Boeri Architetti follows the experience of their two buildings inaugurated in Milan 2014: Bosco Verticale. In China, 1 million plants and 40,000 trees planted all over the project will absorb 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 57 tons of other pollutants per year.

According to the architecture firm: “The diffusion of plants, not only in the parks and gardens or along the streets, but also over building facades, will allow the energy self-sufficient city to contribute to improve the air quality (absorbing both CO2 and fine dust of 57 tons per year), to decrease the average air temperature, to create noise barriers and to improve the biodiversity of living species, generating the habitat for birds, insects and small animals that inhabit the Liuzhou territory,”

The idea to control air quality through architecture is not new. For decades, urban planners have worked and invested in bicycle paths, innovative transportation programmes, and looked into how to improve the cities’ walkability. All features with the objective of reducing emissions from cars and transportation. However, the role of the physical buildings themselves in improving air quality is picking up with many novel ideas in the past decades.

A few interesting and encouraging examples out there include 1. Mexico City, the Manuel Gea Gonzalez Hospital has an external structure that is coated with titanium dioxide. This coating -Provolste360e- helps break down pollutants when exposed to light by releasing free-radicals. Tiles coated with this substance can be used on any surface in the city and repurpose old façades. 2. Paris where the Musee Quay Branly with its living wall that absorbs carbon dioxide and emits oxygen. Yet another example is the Congress Gateway Towers in Chicago, which have an air filtration system to absorb CO2, which then feeds growing algae and is processed into biofuels to provide clean energy for the building.

There are also some smaller initiatives as standalone solutions: the Dan Rosengaarde Smog Free Tower, a smog sucking vacuum tower already installed in Beijing; and CityTree, the ultra tech green wall that can be displayed as urban furniture to help control air pollution.

Architecture has a lot to offer to control air quality, and ideas are sprouting in many directions.

They key to their use on a larger scale is to show their effectiveness by monitoring how air quality is improved following these various initiatives.

MONITOR, ACT AND TAKE CONTROL OF THE AIR QUALITY THAT MATTERS TO YOU!

Economic growth vs. Environmental policies?

This week we have a thought provoking discussion: environmental policy vs. economic growth. This has been at the heart of decisions in the last year with regards to the Paris Agreement, for sure the excuse of many developing nations to delay adoption of environmental policies. In fact, we are constantly debating about the apparent conflict between economic development and environmental protection policies.

The last 50 years have seen rapid urbanization process in many countries, with cities offering more economic opportunities and rural areas being left for the environmentalists and hard labour. Cities grow, innovation happens and with that pollution levels rise, car convenience increases emissions, electricity needs increased emissions and consumerism increases emissions even further. In this picture, cities as centers for growth and innovation should be discouraged if we want to control air pollution.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon  published a research on the link between economic development, urbanization and pollution.

Interestingly enough, the research found that urbanization is the result of a higher quality of life, and cities are more efficient at delivering services such as electricity. The study found that cities have more pollution but pollution per capita is lower in cities than out of them, and environmental policy does mitigate how emissions increase when the population of a city increases. The study in US counties showed that metropolitan GDP and personal income scaled with population size and this was regardless of environmental policies. So, environmental policies did not have a negative effect in economic development in cities, they in fact reduced drastically the environmental damage and pushed for cleaner production practices hence fueling green innovation.

Environmental protection can only make things better for all! Let’s take action and push innovation to cleaner ways of achieving economic growth!

Monitor air quality, Act to breathe cleaner, Enjoy the benefits!

Better Air Quality is the Smart City Challenge

Cities across the globe are facing increasing levels of air pollution. Particles so small that we cannot see and gases at ground level, penetrate our bodies affecting us in many ways: cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory illnesses, strokes, heart attacks, asthma and many more are all common effects of air pollution.

What can cities do?

WHO’s initiative ‘Breathe Life 2030’ calls for cities to take action in the following areas to reduce air pollution:

  • TRANSPORT: does your city have a solid transport system? Are car emissions controlled? Think about…
  • Walking and Cycling paths
  • Efficient mass transport
  • Controlled emission standards
  • Soot-free vehicles

Cities that transform into pedestrian & cycle-friendly and with efficient mass transit systems and controlled emissions generate less pollution and are more liveable.

  • ENERGY SUPPLY: Cities are big energy consumers, striving for cleaner energy production is key. Think about…
    • Renewable power supply
    • Diesel replacement

Cleaner energy production will impact positively the air quality in that given city.

  • WASTE: proper landfill management can decrease the emission of gases.
  • INDUSTRY: industries in and around cities should be strictly controlled for their emissions.
  • AGRICULTURE: agricultural areas around cities should be careful with irrigation, reduce open burning and manure management to control emission of gases and particulate matter affecting nearby cities.
  • HOUSEHOLD: households should be helped to make sure they use low-emission stoves and fuels, improved lighting and passive building design.

However, the first step is always to understand local air pollution, how does it build up in a city, when and how does it clear up. Each city has different patterns of producing air pollution and different natural ways of dispersing it. Understanding how this interaction happens is essential for any city to take steps to improve air quality.

Monitor, monitor, monitor!

Nowadays cities have a handful of high-end air quality monitoring stations that provide a broad view of air quality in any given city. This information may also be compared or complemented with satellite images. But both options provide general information. In real time, most cities cannot precisely say the pollution levels at block level or intersection level. This is a limitation to understanding local air pollution and to taking precise local measures to improve air quality or to measuring the effectiveness of any given measure.

Be a smart city, track outdoor air quality with meo air analytics: have multiple data points, understand local air pollution and find data oriented solutions!

Sources:
BREATHELIFE – A global campaign for clean air