China’s state health agency has recommended schools fit ventilation systems with air filters, following an announcement from the city of Beijing that it will fund air purification systems in some schools.

A representative from the National Health and Family Planning Commission said at a press conference that it is better to install ventilation systems with air filters in classrooms, rather than air purifiers, as oxygen levels would decrease in an enclosed space, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

The Beijing Municipal Education Commission announced on Thursday that purification systems will be installed at an undisclosed number of kindergartens, primary schools and middle schools. The announcement came following outrage over an extended spate of heavy air pollution at the beginning of the new year.

Smog in Beijing at the beginning of 2017. Photo: CGTN screencap.

After the announcement, some parents expressed doubts over the effectiveness of the air purification equipment to be installed in schools, mainland outlet Sixth Tone reported. Stand-alone machines may not be powerful enough to clean air in larger spaces and require a sealed environment to work properly. However, new ventilation systems would require school buildings to be restructured.

The Commission has not specified which type of air-purification system would be used.

‘Money plant’ children

Though some applauded the decision, parents in other parts of the country expressed concern, posting on microblogging site Weibo that “children in Beijing are flowers, and children in other areas are ‘money plants’” – meaning a houseplant with the property of removing some pollutants from the air. The catchphrase was also widely used on social media when Beijing schools closed amidst heavy smog mid-December as classes ran normally in other areas.

File photo: Pixabay.

In a response to a local paper, an official in the city of Xi’an said that they have no plans for the widespread installation of air purifier systems in schools, citing a lack of policy, safety problems, coordination between departments, and lack of funds.

In December, parents at one school in Chengdu pooled their funds to buy air purifiers for the school, but they were removed by the school. The school said in response that the machines were too noisy and said they “neither encourage nor ban” such initiatives from parents, according to state-funded outlet The Paper.

Other measures were announced by the city’s acting mayor Cai Qi on Saturday, according to state news agency Xinhua, including an environmental police force to tackle smog. The force will patrol the streets for open-air barbecues, trash burning, and construction sites and roads that release excessive dust into the air.

Cai also announced a target of cutting the use of coal by 30 per cent this year and said the last coal power plant in Beijing will be shut down. 500 factories will also be shut and 300,000 older vehicles restricted from entering the city.


Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.