Dr Eva Csobod, Project Coordinator at the Regional Environmental Center details how the SINPHONIE project is helping to deliver clean air for school children
The indoor environment in schools constitutes a particular cause of concern since schoolchildren are a particularly vulnerable group of the population. In Europe, more than 64 million students and almost 4.5 million teachers spend many hours each school day inside pre-primary, primary and secondary schools. Children spend more time in school than in any other place except at home. There is much evidence regarding the potential detrimental effect on the health of a variety of indoor pollutants that can be found in school environments, either originating from the ambient air or produced indoors from materials, products or activities. The presence of pollutants in schools may also affect children’s growth, opportunities and learning performance, as well as their cultural and social development.
The WHO Guidelines for indoor air quality specifically state that clean air is a basic requirement for life. It is also emphasised that the primary aims of the WHO guidelines are to provide a uniform basis for the protection of public health from the adverse effects of exposure to indoor air pollution, and to eliminate or reduce to a minimum exposure to those pollutants that are known or likely to be hazardous. The guidelines are targeted at public health professionals involved in preventing health risks from environmental exposure, as well as at specialists and authorities involved in the design and use of buildings and the materials and products used inside them.
The SINPHONIE project (School Indoor Pollution and Health-Observatory Network in Europe), established a scientific/technical network to act at the EU level with the long-term perspective of improving air quality in schools and kindergartens, thereby reducing the risk and burden of respiratory diseases among children and teachers potentially due to outdoor and indoor air pollution. At the same time, the project supports future policy actions by formulating guidelines, recommendations and risk management options for better air quality and associated health effects in schools. SINPHONIE was more ambitious than earlier projects due to its integrated approach to health and environment issues related to the school environment, and due to the large number of parameters assessed.
This justified the special efforts dedicated to the preparation of the field studies and campaigns in the 23 participating countries, which were preceded by well-prepared environment and health training for over 80 scientific and technical staff at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra, Italy. An important element in the SINPHONIE methodological framework was the setting up and population of the SINPHONIE database. The database supported the creation of the observatory network for Europe on school indoor pollution and health by generating significant amounts of high-quality data in line with the SINPHONIE objectives, while also feeding into future similar projects and actions to be undertaken in European countries.
An analysis of the SINPHONIE results confirms that IAQ in schools is a very important issue and has an impact on children’s health, including respiratory problems such as asthma and allergies, as well as attendance and performance. The SINPHONIE results show that indoor air pollution in schools is complex and variable, that it can have different origins (outdoor, indoor) and nature (physical, chemical and biological), and that it can be caused by a variety of sources (such as combustion processes, building materials or components and consumer products). Air pollutants were found in classrooms in concentrations that in several cases exceeded WHO guideline values and that were thus harmful to schoolchildren’s health. The SINPHONIE findings clearly show that Indoor Air Quality is a real problem in schools in many European countries. There is evidence that many schools have high levels of air pollutants (above the recommended guideline values in the case of PM2.5, formaldehyde, benzene and radon).
SINPHONIE has produced guidelines for healthy school environments. The translations of the guidelines are available on the SINPHONIE project’s website ( www.sinphonie.eu ) and on the JRC website ( http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository ).
The guidelines are intended to be generally applicable in most school environments in Europe. However, as each school environment is unique (in terms of design, climatic conditions, operational modes, etc.), the guidance needs to be adopted at the national or local level. The guidelines for healthy school environments in Europe are primarily directed to relevant policymakers at both European and national levels and to local authorities aiming to improve the indoor school environment in their countries while respecting the specificities (environmental, social, economic) of their national and local situations. A second target group that is expected to benefit directly from these guidelines includes school building designers and managers (responsible for the design, construction and renovation of school buildings). A third target group comprises schoolchildren and their parents, teachers and other school staff.
SINPHONIE was initiated and funded by the European Parliament. It was carried out under a contract with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO). The current 7th Environment Action Programme and the Clean Air Policy Package of the EC were developed and came into force in late 2013. These documents provide the policy framework for potential follow up activities of the SINPHONIE project.
SINPHONIE (Schools Indoor Pollution and Health – Observatory Network in Europe) project, funded by the European Parliament and carried out under a contract with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) (SANCO/2009/.
The Coordination Committee of the project: Éva Csobod, REC, Eduardo de Oliveira Fernandes, IDMEC-FEUP, Peter Rudnai, NIEH and Stylianos Kephalopoulos, JRC.
The final reports of the project summarise the work performed by a consortium of 38 partners from 25 countries that involved around 300 people of specialised scientific and/or technical background. The authors of the reports wish to express their deep gratitude to all of their collaborators for their outstanding contribution to the execution of the SINPHONIE project. Names of all contributors can be found at the end of the final reports as well as on the SINPHONIE project’s website (www.sinphonie.eu). Special recognition goes to the teachers, pupils and parents who participated in the SINPHONIE project, for their enthusiasm and close cooperation.
SINPHONIE (Schools Indoor Pollution and Health Observatory Network in Europe): Executive Summary of the Final Report
Éva Csobod, Isabella Annesi-Maesano, Paolo Carrer, Stylianos Kephalopoulos, Joana Madureira, Peter Rudnai, Eduardo de Oliveira Fernandes, Josefa Barrero-Moreno, Tímea Beregszászi, Anne Hyvärinen, Hans Moshammer, Dan Norback, Anna Páldy, Tamás Pándics, Piersante Sestini, Marianne Stranger, Martin Täubel, Mihály J. Varró, Eva Vaskovi, Gabriela Ventura and Giovanni Viegi. Co-published by the European Commission’s Directorates-General for Health and Consumers and Joint Research Centre, Luxembourg, 2014.
Dr Eva Csobod
Regional Environmental Center