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Seoul puts purifiers in schools to combat dust

Apr 18,2018
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education plans to install air purification systems in all kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools in the city by 2020.

“Our goal is to ensure that the level of PM10 fine dust in classrooms is less than 70 micrograms per cubic meter of air and that of PM2.5 fine dust is less than 35 micrograms at any given time,” said Seoul’s education office in a statement Wednesday.

“We hope to reach this goal by 2020 by installing air purification systems in schools.”

Korea receives yellow dust from the Gobi Desert every spring, but pollution has become especially severe in recent years. The country was ranked second worst in terms of air quality among developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in February 2017.

PM2.5 particles are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair, and can travel through the respiratory tract into the bloodstream. The World Health Organization described fine dust particles carcinogenic in 2013 and recommends exposure of no more than a daily average of 25 micrograms.

PM10 particles are larger than PM2.5 particles but are also carcinogenic. The WHO recommends exposure of no more than a daily average of 50 micrograms of PM10.

“We’ll start with the kindergartens, elementary schools and schools for students with special needs and install air purification systems there first,” said the education office. “Then we will move onto installing them in middle and high schools.”

There are 1,485 kindergartens, elementary schools and schools for students with special needs in Seoul. Around half of them do not have air purification systems, according to the Seoul education office.

There are a total of 696 middle and high schools in Seoul, according to the education office. Among them, only 100 have air purification systems.

The air purification systems include ventilation and purification devices. They are to be installed in each classroom in kindergartens, elementary schools and schools for students with special needs.

For middle and high schools, two air purification devices will be provided per school, and not necessarily in each classroom, according to the Seoul education office.

“We expect it will cost us some 46.3 billion won [$43.4 million] in the next three years,” said the education office. “Within this year alone, we expect to spend 10.9 billion won in installing air purification systems.”

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education’s plan follows a national air purification plan announced by Ministry of Education earlier in the month.

“For the next three years, local education offices will ensure that all kindergartens, elementary schools and schools for students with special needs throughout the country will have air purification systems,” said the ministry in a statement on April 6. “Around 60 percent of them do not yet have these purification systems.”

The ministry said local governments are to allot money for purification systems in kindergartens and schools, which is expected to cost 220 billion won in total.

The Education Ministry will also pass a regulation that allows students with respiratory conditions like asthma to take sick days when fine dust in the air hits unhealthy levels.

“The project is meant to protect the health of students and keep them safe from fine dust,” Education Minister Kim Sang-kon said. “We will continue to work with local experts and governments to ensure all we can do is being done for the welfare of students.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]