Main findings

The extensive database containing information on 7,860 children from 388 classrooms in 100 schools in 10 countries created a unique opportunity to study a wide variety of school indoor and outdoor environments, to measure outdoor and indoor concentrations of several air pollutants, and to study the associations between the school environment and children’s health.

Sources of indoor concentrations of  NO2 and, to a lesser extent, PM10, were outdoor pollution (mainly traffic), while volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde were mainly emitted from indoor sources.

The health status of children from the various countries was assessed and compared. Asthmatic symptoms and doctor-diagnosed allergies were found to be significantly less frequent in the four new SEARCH II countries than in the six SEARCH I countries.

The results of the spirometry tests confirmed that the great majority of children have normal respiratory function, and this situation must be maintained in the coming years alongside further improvements to the environment in which they live.

The large database allowed statistically significant associations to be found between the school environment and children’s health. Some of these associations may be accidental and difficult to interpret, but most provide information and well-documented facts that can be used to determine new interventions in order to ensure a healthier school environment and improve children’s respiratory health.

On the basis of the results, some obvious examples of effective interventions can be highlighted: overcrowding in the classrooms should be avoided; windows should be opened during every break, and some should be kept open during teaching time; and plastic (PVC) flooring and water-resistant paints, for example, should be avoided. Schools should not be built along roads with busy traffic or in areas heavily polluted from any other sources.

The comfort assessment was a useful tool for collecting information from children about their perceptions of the school environment. The children’s objective perceptions were well supported by objective measurements of temperature, relative humidity and  CO2 concentrations. According to the assessments, 48 percent of children thought the classroom was warmer than optimal (children considered the air temperature to be too high above 22°C). This finding may be significant from an energy-saving perspective. Further evidence was found that good air quality during lessons significantly depends on the ventilation regime during breaks. After adjustment for gender and age, logistic regression analysis revealed that when the air in the classroom was of poor quality, the risk of headaches increased by 96 percent, and even with neutral air quality by 31 percent, compared to good air quality.

Average primary energy consumption in the 95 analysed schools was 220.9 kWh/m2a. The calculated primary energy consumption was generally 1.7 times higher than the reference value, thus it can be concluded that the modernisation of the building structures and HVAC systems offers a very large energy-saving potential, and recommendations were made for such modernisation. Modernisation could potentially reduce average total primary energy consumption from 220.9 kWh/m2a to 108.0 kWh/m2a, a saving of more than half the primary energy consumption.

Improving the thermal characteristics of the building envelope would result in lower heating energy consumption, and would also improve children’s perceptions of comfort.

Ministero Dell'ambiente Italian Trust Fund