Air Quality and Kids: How to Keep Them Safe from Pollution

In a busy city such as Bangkok, the hot, dry days can lead to increases in air pollution that can make outdoor physical activities not only unpleasant but also unsafe. It is therefore vital that outdoor activities involving children are scheduled around periods when the air quality is better. Understanding the causes and effects of outdoor air pollution will help you to protect your children and other family members from the damaging effects of poor quality air.

The effects of both indoor and outdoor air pollution on children’s health

In a report published by the World Health Organisation, 90% of the world’s children are exposed to air pollution. It is a concern at a kindergarten in Bangkok such as ours because younger children are more susceptible to illness directly associated with air pollution as recognised by WHO. The side-effects of poor quality air not only impact on a child physically, such as with asthma and other respiratory diseases, it can also affect their learning due to poor attendance and lack of concentration.

Sources of outdoor air pollution

Kids will be exposed to air pollution during their breaks, outdoor activities, playing sports as well as potentially on their journey to and from school. There are two main forms of airborne pollutants which are fine particles (particular matter) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The levels of these pollutants will vary at different times of the year.

Fine particles comprise of microscopic particles that are either in solid or liquid form and can easily be unwittingly inhaled. When these pollutants enter our lungs or bloodstream, they can cause severe health issues depending on the levels of exposure.

VOCs are carbon-based gases which are noted for causing nose, throat and eye irritation. Also, the child may experience difficulty breathing as well as suffering from fatigue. In more severe cases, they may cause damage to the liver and central nervous system.

Common forms of air pollutants

  • Wildfire smoke. Although this is rare in Bangkok, it is a severe problem in northern parts of Thailand such as Chiang Mai. When the smoke is inhaled it can cause damage to the heart and lungs resulting in coughing, excess mucus and breathing difficulties
  • Temperature inversions. It is where cold and warm air combines, resulting in high concentrations of pollutants staying near the earth’s surface. Under a layer of warm air, pollutants can quickly build up.
  • Smog. One of the biggest causes of air pollution in Bangkok is smog caused by traffic and industrial pollution. High levels of smog can negatively impact on a child’s development and impair their cognitive function.
  • Ozone. Ozone is present in the air that we breathe and is the result of a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxide and VOCs. A prime example of this would be the reaction of vehicle emissions when exposed to sunlight which can cause a multitude of respiratory problems.

Sources of indoor air pollution

Air quality in homes and schools can be affected when outdoor pollution is high. Often this is a problem in inner-city areas that have high volumes of traffic. Also, indoor pollutants may include mould and bacteria that are commonly found in kindergartens and schools.

Controlling internal airborne pollutants can be challenging but regularly changing HVAC filters, cleaning and dusting frequently as well as using an air purifier can help. It is also wise to install carbon monoxide and radon detectors.

What is the Air Quality Index (AQI)?

The AQI was developed to give the general public a better indication of the air quality in their area. As well as providing scores, the quality is also given a colour coding. The colours are:

  • Green – This is the best quality of air and will have an AQI rating of 0-50.
  • Yellow – The air can be unhealthy to extremely vulnerable groups. The AQI rating will be 51-100.
  • Orange – Children and those with asthma may experience problems. The AQI rating will be 101-150.
  • Red – Outdoor activities should be moved indoors, and air quality is classed as poor. The AQI rating will be 151-200
  • Purple – The air quality is extremely poor, and all outdoor activities should be rescheduled or moved indoors. The AQI will be 201-300.
  • Maroon – The air quality is now deemed hazardous, and the AQI rating will be 301-500.

Keeping children safe from air pollution

Parents and teachers should always be aware of the AQI levels in their area. The government may issue some guidelines regarding levels of outdoor physical activity and medical professionals may offer advice if your child is particularly sensitive. Following information and advice is one of the most effective ways to provide your child with some protection.

When air quality is especially poor, it is wise to take the following precautions:

  • Consult your child’s doctor – If your child has asthma or any other respiratory problem, it is wise to devise an action plan that your child can act upon when air pollution levels are high.
  • Reduce indoor pollutants – Avoiding smoking cigarettes, frying foods, burning candles and using aerosols in confined spaces.
  • Air purifiers – Air purifier are superb for helping to remove airborne pollutants that may be present in your home.
  • Respirator masks – Older children could wear a mask to reduce the amount of pollutants that they inhale. It is not advisable for younger children who should be kept indoors.
  • Clean up any ash – If you do need to burn something at home such as after a barbeque, clean up the ash as quickly as possible after cooling to reduce its chances of entering the atmosphere.

Air pollution will vary across Thailand and at different times of the year. The same is true of Bangkok with downtown areas experiencing more pollution than in many outlying areas. The best method for protecting you and your family is to stay informed of AQIs and take the necessary precautions, especially when air pollutants are high. Where appropriate, children should be kept indoors when air pollution is a problem.