Parents demand air purifiers be installed in schools, not all successful

Parents beset by hazardous smog in cities such as Beijing and Tianjin are calling for air purifiers to be installed in classrooms as many cannot take time off work to look after their children when schools close due to pollution.

Beijing has issued air pollution red alerts twice this December. Primary schools, secondaryschools and kindergartens were all shut down during the alerts, and some schoolssuspended classes on a smog-choked Christmas Day following suggestions from theBeijing Municipal Commission of Education.

Many schools have already installed air purifiers, while others are still waiting for officialapproval from the authorities despite the fact that parents are eager to buy purifiersthemselves.

Parents’ call

Many parents reached by the Global Times said they have tried to or already boughtpurifiers for their children’s classrooms.

A father, surnamed Jiang, whose child is studying at the Primary School Attached toPeking University, told the Global Times that parents in his child’s class paid 200 yuan($30) each to buy two purifiers after Beijing issued its first smog red alert.

Wu, father of a 4-year-old girl who attends a kindergarten in Chaoyang district in Beijing,told the Global Times that his daughter’s class is not so lucky, because the kindergartenrefused the parents’ offer to buy purifiers for the class, as the local educational authoritymay collect the purifiers to redistribute them to all the area’s schools.

Beijing Huijia Private School has set up four air-supported stadium roofs so students canstill have PE class on smoggy days.

Air purifiers are not on government purchase lists in many cities, which means many localauthorities cannot spend their budget on purifiers, a newspaper affiliated to the Ministryof Education reported Wednesday.

Air purifiers are not affordable for every school, and parents might differ on which kind ofpurifier to purchase and where to place the machine, added the report.

Some parents have attempted to crowd-fund air purifiers for their children’s schools. butthese attempts have usually been refused by schools and teachers, saying they needapproval from the education authorities to use purifiers.

Pei Sheng, headmaster of a primary school in Shanghai told thepaper.cn that it’s hard toreach a consensus among parents and claimed that an air purifier won’t make muchdifference anyway.

A teacher told the China Youth Daily that purifiers will bring safety concerns and parentscannot buy and use them in classrooms.

Safety concerns

The Beijing education authorities have been working with environmental experts, researchinstitutions and businesses on the feasibility of installing air purifiers in schools since2014, an unnamed official with the commission told the Beijing News on Saturday.

However, it is not clear whether or not installing purifiers would have side effects thatcould damage children’s health, said the official.

Regular air filters might cause the concentration of carbon dioxide in a classroom to rise,Deng Gaofeng, head of the low carbon-building study office with the China Academy ofBuilding Research, told news outlet china.org.cn on December 21.

“Take the classroom we tested for instance. If we keep windows and doors closed duringclasses, the concentrations of CO2 in the classroom will double from 1,000 parts-per-million (PPM) to some 2,000 PPM, while according to safety standards, the highest indexshould not be more than 1,500 PPM,” said Deng.

However, the density of CO2 won’t be a problem unless the classroom was completelysealed, said Liu Youning, a professor of epidemiology and respiratory medicine at theChinese PLA General Hospital, adding that fresh air systems can fix the problem.

“Without standard guidance from local authorities, the brand of the purifier, installation,and even the security of the devices can all be issues,” Liu Liangcheng, vice-principal ofBeijing’s Taipinglu Primary School, told china.org.cn on December 21.

One thing is clear, the younger that children are, the more vulnerable they are to airpollution, and protections should be implemented not only on severely polluted days butalso on the more lightly polluted days which are very common in many cities, Liu Youningtold the Global Times.