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Delhi Schools’ Air Extremely Polluted Due to Constant Use of Chalk and Duster, Poor Ventilation: Study

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Feb 25, 2021

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Image Credit: The Indian Express

Schools in the national capital have extremely high concentrations of harmful air pollutants like PM 2.5, PM 10, and carbon dioxide, a new study has found. Conducted by the IIT-Delhi and the Society for Indoor Environment (SIE) between October 2019 and January 2020, the study found that concentrations of these pollutants within school premises were 12-15 times higher than the World Health Organization’s permissible standards.

Constant use of chalk and duster, amid poor ventilation on school premises, are the major reasons for this pollution, researchers found.

Past research suggests that while the components of chalk dust may not be toxic per se, chalk dust can accumulate in the human respiratory system over the years — leading to long-term health problems, especially in cases of over-exposure. “In short, swallowing a piece of white chalkboard chalk won’t kill you, but breathing in chalk dust for a number of years can create or trigger respiratory problems,” a 2011 paper noted, recommending that chalk dust be considered “an irritant and an occupational hazard.”

In addition to causing respiratory issues, chalk dust can also be “harmful to allergic persons and may cause lacrimation [or, watering eyes],” besides being a “constant nuisance in classrooms as it may soil clothes, body parts, audiovisual aids, and study materials,” states another study by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in India.

Alongside chalk dust, the researchers of the latest study also discovered very high levels of carbon dioxide and other compounds present in emissions or ambient air within school premises. They said it was due to construction activities on campuses, or in nearby areas, and the environments and neighborhoods in which schools were located. Poor ventilation, too, contributed to the accumulation of pollutants in school buildings.


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India’s Pollution Regulators Are Ineffective Due to a Lack of Expertise, Resources: Report


With schools gradually opening up (and the pandemic still ongoing), the findings of this study are alarming. Previous studies have also linked air pollution to higher Covid19 mortality rates. Moreover, extended exposure to PM 2.5 air pollution also leads to anemia among children under the age of 5 years, according to another study published this year.

In colleges too, researchers found the indoor air quality to be 10-15 times higher than WHO-standards — attributed largely to their proximity to main roads, and the ensuing traffic, and to activities like cooking and smoking on campus.

The survey was conducted in 37 buildings across the city and included six schools, six colleges, six malls, six offices, six restaurants, six hospitals, and a cinema hall. “Educational institutes top the list for high PM-concentration,” Professor Arun Sharma, president of the SIE, told The Indian Express, adding that due to “rampant use of chemical cleaning agents, floor cleaners and cooking oils,” and “higher occupancy and inadequate ventilation,” indoor air quality was quite poor in hospitals, restaurants, and offices as well.

The air quality was found to be the cleanest in shopping malls, which the researchers believe is a result of the buildings being larger, with more efficient central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

The present study recommends establishing national standards for indoor air quality and making it mandatory to set up sensors displaying both the indoor and outdoor air quality in public spaces. “It is worrying that the air quality indoors is worse than that outside. Keeping this in mind it is essential that builders of public buildings consider ventilation as an important factor for the well-being of individuals present inside,” the study concluded.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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