Schools breathing easier
'Clean Air Classrooms' project aims to reduce impact of pollution,
It's been two weeks since the school reopened. Faculty members of Watamarintraram School in Bangkok Noi district hope the measures they prepared will help prevent the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases.
Everything has been working well so far.
"Out of 34 students in my class, seven have allergies," said Thanthong Sirirattanawadee, a P (Prathomsuksa) 1/5 Class teacher.
"Normally, they show symptoms when spending time in air-conditioned rooms, but I can see that they can breathe more comfortably this semester."
Nathrada Hommonta, a K (kindergarten) 3/4 Class teacher, said although the project has only been running for two weeks, some changes can already be felt.
"We may not see a lot of changes but we can feel a difference in the air," she said.
Watamarintraram School is taking part in the "Clean Air Classrooms" pilot project, sponsored by Siriraj Hospital. Under the programme, the ventilation systems of schools around the hospital are being upgraded to limit the spread of respiratory diseases and ensure students breathe PM2.5-free air.
Dr Nitipatana Chierakul, head of the Respiratory Disease and Tuberculosis Division at the hospital's Department of Medicine, said community transmission management is crucial in controlling a pandemic.
Transmissions in enclosed spaces need special attention, especially for the younger generation because the pandemic can affect the health and development of children, he said.
"With the upgraded ventilation system under the 'Clean Air Classroom' project, I believe the [condition] of the classrooms will improve while the chances of respiratory disease transmission and the effects of PM2.5 particles will be reduced," he said. "Diseases and air pollution can hamper the development of children's lungs."
"We hope that good results [from the project] can boost the use of air ventilation upgrades in enclosed spaces in other places," he said. "[Good ventilation] deserves more attention in Thailand."
Ekbordin Winijkul, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Engineering and Management programme at the Asian Institute of Technology, said areas around Siriraj Hospital are affected by air pollution from traffic congestion.
Although the smog can be carried away by the wind in areas next to the river, nearby schools are feeling the impact of pollution.
Pharadee Phangsanga, director of Watamarintraram School and initiator of the air ventilation project, said the school two years ago initiated a different project tackling fine dust particle problems but the programme was halted due to the pandemic.
Today, under the hospital's project, the school has two new air ventilation devices or exhaust fans in each classroom. The equipment was installed to draw fresh air from outside which will dilute the accumulated carbon dioxide and aerosols in the room. The devices were designed to block airborne particles from entering a room.
Despite the upgrades, students and teachers are still advised to wear a mask at all times. They can only eat or drink at the school's open-air cafeteria.
Asst Prof Prapat Pongkiatkul, head of the Department of Environmental Engineering at King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi's Faculty of Engineering and project consultant, said ensuring classrooms have fresh air helps enhance children's learning as carbon dioxide can affect their concentration.
Project consultants said an accumulation of carbon dioxide was found in a classroom where 40 dance students had been practising for three hours.
The figure was about 2,000 parts per million, they said, adding an average classroom without an upgraded ventilation system in place is 6,000 ppm.
Watamarintraram School is just one of a handful of schools taking part in the project. It is located next to the hospital, while Satri Wat Rakhang School is closer to the river. Both schools have upgraded air ventilation systems in 12 classrooms while Satri Wat Rakhang also has fans in three more classrooms.
So far, the project has spent about 850,000 baht to upgrade the classrooms.
Tanasak Pheunghua, another consultant, said the upgraded system "may not be the best" but it is the most suitable for classrooms at the moment.
Increasing the air ventilation rate will increase electricity bills and cause room temperatures to rise, he said.
Building structures of classrooms do not allow the installation of some devices, he said, but windows can be opened for 3–5 minutes every hour to help with airflow.
Dr Nitipatana said that during the project's duration, student data will be collected and reviewed. PM2.5 figures might be collected, depending on the season, he said.