♦ Since 2014, student athletes at the American Embassy School wear masks while training outdoors. Twice every school day, staff measure air quality and then decide if children can go outdoors.
♦ Lycee Francais de Delhi, a school supported by France’s embassy, plans to install 60 air purifiers.
♦ The German school, backed by that country’s embassy, doesn’t let children play outside if RSPM levels top the 300 µg/m3 mark (the average figure for Delhi is 316 this year, over 16 times the permissible limit).
Controlling exposure to vehicular pollution and allotting slots for outdoor activities based on weather conditions were two of the key recommendations of the landmark study of children in 36 Delhi schools by scientists from the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI).
While that report hasn’t reached the schools surveyed, another set of schools is waking up to the alarming air pollution crisis in the
city — those run by Embassies for children of diplomats and expats on what’s, technically, foreign soil.
Take the American Embassy School (AES), for instance, which is located inside the embassy premises.
“In December 2013, our Board of Governors reviewed the situation regarding physical activity on campus on poor air-quality days,” an AES official told The Indian Express.
Subsequently, the school administration adopted a “pro-activity” stance, with the non-outdoors side activity bar tweaked to facilitate physical education and extracurricular activities.
“The no-outside aerobic activity mark has been lowered from 350 µg/m3 to 300 µg/m3 RSPM 2.5 (the virtually invisible, lethal dust). Or else, the boys and girls cannot play half the time,” an official said.
Besides, air quality readings are taken at 7 am and 12 noon, every school day, using the 24-hour average posted on the American Embassy website.
“Masks with special filtering capacity are available for sale on the school’s campus. Their use is encouraged but not mandated or required,” the official said.
“When RSPM 2.5 is 300 µg/m3 or above, students are allowed to go outside, but only for non-aerobic activity. Coaches and advisors choose to take students outside, but any activity must be limited in duration. Here, school personnel are guided by a rubric regularly used by the school’s Physical Education teachers,” the official said.
At the discretion of the coach, the official said, “We allow aerobic competitive athletic practices to take place above 300 µg/m3 for those athletes who are wearing special masks.”
Said a US diplomat whose children go to AES: “Parents are always requested that their sons and daughters not participate in an outside activity due to poor air quality. It’s very difficult to tell them (the children) to do so.”
Officials at the German School on Nyaya Marg, again in Chanakyapuri, say they have been discussing the “air pollution problem” since 2013. “The problem and its possible consequences have been topics of discussions in all school committees. Discussions with directors in the region facing similar problems have taken place,” a school official said.
The school is currently studying whether the installation of a central air filter would be feasible. “We have sent enquiries to experienced companies that have in the past installed such air filters in other schools and embassies. At present, we are waiting for offers regarding the feasibility and the costs,” an official said.
A German diplomat said, “The school is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Which is the lesser of the evils? Our students want to and indeed should exercise outside. But extreme exertion, as in stamina training, can be detrimental to their health.”
“The current air quality level would mean cancelling all sports activities from mid-November to mid-February and confining the students to the school building all day where the air quality is not that much better. The PTA finds this totally unacceptable,” the school official said.
Since December 2013, the school’s director has been monitoring hourly pollution updates, armed with the following guidelines: physical education or sports will “take place as normal” up to RSPM 2.5 readings of 300 µg/m3; no strenuous exercise will be carried out on readings between 300-450 µg/m3; higher readings mean students will be confined to classrooms.
At the French school, the administration wants to minimise “indoor pollution” too, officials said. A French diplomat, associated with the school, said that it intends to improve air quality within classes with the “acquisition of nearly 60 air purifiers to equip all rooms and offices as well as seal all openings”.
In the meantime, they have also come up with various guidelines: normal activity on readings of 150 µg/m3 and below; exemption from physical activity for students with breathing problems at readings above 150 µg/m3; and only less intense outdoor activity 200-350 µg/m3.