Schools in Hungary - indoor pollution often worse than outdoor pollution

Since the change from communism to democratic government 16 years ago Hungary has much to close the gap with the west on environmental standards. And joining the European Union 2 years ago meant Hungary had to meet new standards and Hungarians become more environment conscious. Despite this environmental problems from the past continue to affect the health of Hungarians.

Dr Eva Csobod is from the Regional Environmental Institute:

"Pollution related to the past is mainly in the soil, as far as air and water are concerned the situation is much better due to different resources and helpful programmes of the government. If we think about the different fields of the environment, handling the waste is quite problematic because it is not handled carefully enough everywhere in the country. The other problem is air pollution, especially indoor pollution. For example in schools, the quality of the air is not the best."

Due to what? Is it due to a lack of airing the rooms or ventilation?

"It is due to the ventilation, due to the walls, the different chemicals coming from the wall, and also due to the heating systems. You know, due to the heating system sometimes Nitrogen Oxide may cause problems in the air inside the building, in schools as well as in family homes. But I think the situation is getting better because the government has a new programme, an environmental and health programme for the next 6 years. Also we have more resources, financial and human, to have a better situation concerning the environment and health."

I think a law in effect from 1985 bans harmful materials in wall paint, chipboard, or polish.

"You are absolutely right. From 1985 we have had regulations concerning these materials. We also have a research project at the REC covering 8 countries investigating the regulations in schools. We would like to influence the decision-makers to have better regulations; the Hungarian standards should be stricter. The project is to force decision-makers to have stronger standards related to harmful chemicals. Also we would like to see more chemicals on the list of school standards. Really, all chemicals which are harmful to the health of children should be banned. We would need a good action programme. It's on its way. We hope that it will happen very soon."

But what does a teacher at a Budapest secondary school, Dr Agnes Sroth, say who works with the REC [Regional Environmental Center]. What are the most harmful materials you know of?

"Almost everything children carry in their schoolbag: the felt pens and correctors, the paint in them is hazardous to health. If there are new benches or the old ones are re-polished, the glue contains formaldehyde and it evaporates."

Despite the fact that a law passed in 1985 bans the use of such glues?

"Unfortunately, these benches are glued which contains a strong organic material. Another danger area is the washroom and the loo because of the use of cleansers and disinfectants. The pupil who first goes to the loo after it's been freshly cleaned would inhale a large quantity of chemicals. Also during laboratory experiments at chemistry classes we have to watch how much and what kind of agents we experiment with."

Do you try to counter-balance the chemicals with anything?

"We really can't. The use of chalk or colour pencils would be healthier than the felt pens but they are not popular these days. We try to find environment-friendly cleaning stuff but not with complete success. Most of them contain phosphate. We can use vinegar to wash the benches or the floor with."

All you have said now is not a Hungarian feature, I think.

"I don't know about other countries. In cooperation with the REC [Regional Environmental Center] we organise health courses for teachers and cleaners to call attention to what is harmful and how to possibly avoid it."