Poor air quality in classrooms related to asthma and rhinitis in primary schoolchildren of the French 6 Cities Study

13 November 2019

Annesi-Maesano, I., Hulin, M., Lavaud, F., Raherison, C., Kopferschmitt, C., De Blay, F., Charpin, D.A., Caillaud, D.

Thorax, 2012, 67, 682–688.

Background Relationships between indoor air quality (IAQ) found in schools and the allergic and respiratory health of schoolchildren have been insufficiently explored. A survey was conducted in a large sample of classrooms of primary schools in France to provide objective assessments of IAQ to which young schoolchildren are exposed in classrooms, and to relate exposure to major air pollutants found in classrooms to asthma and allergies of schoolchildren.

Methods Concentrations of fine particles with aerodynamic diameter ≤2.5 μm (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and three aldehydes were objectively assessed in 401 randomly chosen classrooms in 108 primary schools attended by 6590 children (mean age 10.4 years, SD ±0.7) in the French 6 Cities Study. The survey incorporated a medical visit including skin prick testing (SPT) for common allergens, a test for screening exercise-induced asthma (EIA) and a standardised health questionnaire completed by parents.

Results Children were differently exposed to poor air quality in classrooms, with almost 30% being highly exposed according to available standards. After adjusting for confounders, past year rhinoconjunctivitis was significantly associated with high levels of formaldehyde in classrooms (OR 1.19; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.36). Additionally, an increased prevalence of past year asthma was found in the classrooms with high levels of PM2.5 (OR 1.21; 95% CI 1.05 to 1.39), acrolein (OR 1.22; 95% CI 1.09 to 1.38) and NO2 (OR 1.16; 95% CI 0.95 to 1.41) compared with others. The relationship was observed mostly for allergic asthma as defined using SPT. A significant positive correlation was found between EIA and the levels of PM2.5 and acrolein in the same week.

Conclusions In this random sample, air quality in classrooms was poor, varied significantly among schools and cities, and was related to an increased prevalence of clinical manifestations of asthma and rhinitis in schoolchildren. Children with a background of allergies seemed at increased risk.