No safety rules yet against pollution near schools

Published On: March 27, 2017 05:00 AM NPT By: Bishnu Prasad Aryal

Many schools operate along roadside with heavy noise, smoke and dust pollution
KATHMANDU, March 27: Case 1: Five hundred students from nursery  to grade three at Bright Future Secondary School at Naikap  on the outskirts of Kathmandu  have to inhale dust and fumes from vehicle emission  and put up with the noise of vehicles. The school  is adjacent to the Kalanki-Nagdhunga road section, which serves as the exit from the capital for a majority of vehicles headed for the Prithvi Highway. The seniors wing of the school with about 800 students is just 50 meters  from the busy road.

Case 2: Rooms, tables and chairs at Prime English School at Naikap in Chandragiri Municipality, where 400 students including toddlers are enrolled, become covered with layers of dust every two hours.

Case 3: Padmodaya Secondary School, which has 1,000 students and is located at a crossroads at  Putalisadak in Kathmandu, is helpless against the heavy smoke and dust and   vehicle noise.

Case 4: Sundarban School at Naikap, Siddheshwor School at Shantinagar, Kanya School at Dillibazaar and Durbar High School at Ranipokhari are  among  dozens of other schools located  at busy, noisy and polluted roadsides. 

A majority of the 2,000 schools in  Kathmandu Valley are running alongside the roads, without any consideration of the harmful effects of the pollution on the thousands of school children. The existing rules include provisions for a healthy atmosphere and greenery at schools as well as on restrictions on  the sale of alcohol and tobacco products in the school vicinities. However, these rules have remained confined to paper.

The school authorities themselves are either unaware of the rules or do not like to talk about whether  the environmental rights of students were considered while establishing the schools or constructing the school buildings. “The rules may be there but I don't know about them in detail,” said Balkrishna Bhetwal, principal of Prime English School at Naikap. 

But Bhetwal admitted that the children at his school have frequently suffered from throat pains, coughing and conjunctivitis. "Us teachers are also suffering now from throat pains and coughing,” he added. “The government should adopt measures to check pollution and constructi the roads at night also so that such work  could be completed faster.”

Manju Shrestha, coordinator of the pre-primary section at Bright Future Secondary School at Naikap, said that  students at her school, which was opened in 1987 near the roadside, are used  to the pollution. “The school can't be shifted to some other place,” said Shrestha. “We have only  noticed  itching and allergic reactions among the  students sometimes,” she added. “The government should be thinking about doing something about the road pollution,” she added.

Pediatrician Dr Krishna Paudel informed that the impact of such pollution on children could be critical  in both the short and long terms. “Pollution is a serious threat to respiratory functions, skin  health and children's ability to concentrate,” said Dr Paudel. “Smoke and dust can damage the lungs as well as affect blood circulation,” he added. “Noise pollution can harm one's hearing  and  also trigger psychological and neurological problems.” There has been no study  yet on the impact of pollution on school children in Nepal.

The air in Kathmandu Valley is contaminated with toxins like sulphate, ammonia, nitrate, carbon mono-oxide, lead and carbon particles, which can account for 72 percent of the risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, 14 percent for lung damage and 14 percent for cancer, according to experts.

Air pollution along the busy intersections  is eight times higher than the national standard, which itself  is twice  the international standard, according to  Nepal Health Research Council (NHRC). 

Normal noise levels inside a room are measured at 60 decibels (dB) and more than 85dB experienced continuously can harm an individual's health. Eight hours of exposure to 90dB noise can cause  hearing damage, said ENT specialist Dr Yogesh Neupane of NHRC. At 100dB, the damage can occur with just 15 minutes of exposure while exposure to 140dB can cause immediate nerve damage, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Studies have shown that the noise levels outside the cabins of buses and trucks would be around 115dB.

Residential houses and schools should be at least 660 feet away from  roads to be safe from noise pollution while the safe distance from vehicle emission with high toxicity would be between 330  to 500 feet  and from elevated toxicity level between 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet, according to a study carried out in the USA. 

 Nepal has not formulated any specific rules to protect  school children from the harmful impact of pollution, said high ranking government officials. “This is a very serious  issue concerning children's health,” they added.

Dr Hari Prasad Lamsal, spokesman at the Ministry of Education, said that there isn't any specific rule regarding pollution. Neither is there any rule on maintaining a healthy distance from roads. “Existing rules include provisions for security in terms of landslides and a healthy environment but do not have anything to say about noise and air pollution,” he said. “It's time to think about it and work on it. We will incorporate these concerns while formulating new laws.”

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