The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe
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Implementation periods:
SEARCH: Phase I (2006–2009)
Phase II (2010–2013)
Phase III (2014 to present)
SINPHONIE: (2010–2012)
Reporting and publishing of SINPHONIE Guidelines (2013–2014)


On school days, over 64 million European students and almost 4.5 million teachers are affected by the quality of the air they breathe inside their schools. Those suffering from asthma are particularly sensitive to poor air quality and pollutants.

Indoor air quality in school buildings is affected by outdoor air pollution, building characteristics and operation and management practices, including cleaning, maintenance and ventilation. Paints, glues and other materials used in the classroom are also important sources of indoor air pollution.

The SEARCH and SINPHONIE projects operated within two international frameworks: the Environment and Health Strategy through the EU Action Plan on Environment and Health; and the Children’s Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe of the World Health Organization Europe, Regional Priority Goal 3 on air quality and children’s health.

SEARCH (School Environment and Respiratory Health of Children)

The SEARCH initiative was developed to facilitate collective decision-making processes for adopting new plans and policies aimed at reducing health risks to children. The initiative integrated an energy-saving component in 2010, requiring participants to absorb new knowledge, take on fresh perspectives and assign new priorities towards achieving healthy and sustainable schools.

Cooperation on health and the environment between the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea (IMELS) and the REC began in 2003 with the pilot project “Cleaner Environment, Better Future for Our Children”. The success of this pilot project was celebrated at the Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, held in Budapest, Hungary, in 2004, and motivated further international research into indoor air quality and children’s health.

The first phase of the SEARCH initiative lasted from 2006 to 2009, while SEARCH II began in 2010 and concluded in 2013. The health of 7,860 children in 101 schools was assessed during SEARCH I and SEARCH II. The final outcomes of SEARCH II represent tangible progress that is already being integrated into established European environment and health processes.

SEARCH II not only extended the initiative’s thematic orientation but also expanded its geographical scope from six to ten countries. In addition to enabling the free exchange of information within a wider area, good practices from Italy and Hungary were introduced and put into motion in a pan-European context, including selected countries in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (the EECCA region). Bearing these successes in mind, the continuation of knowledge sharing and the exchange of good practices developed and promoted within the SEARCH initiative will bring added value for Italy as a donor country, and for all involved partners.

While its initial and primary focus was on indoor air quality in schools, the SEARCH II project also transferred knowledge gained in the course of earlier related efforts and from other countries and regions. This resulted in fruitful cooperation among participants and experts from a wide range of professional backgrounds, including health, environment and energy efficiency.

The SEARCH II team was committed to exploring the prevalence of asthma among schoolchildren, as well as the effects of poor indoor air quality on children’s ability to concentrate and study. Determined to fill knowledge gaps and produce evidence, the project team carried out field studies, gathered information and accumulated a vast array of data that were published in SEARCH II’s final recommendations and guidelines. These outputs can now be used to help shape future policies for the benefit of European schoolchildren’s health for many years to come.

The current SEARCH III project focuses on the development of educational materials in the form of the Air Pack for schools.

The SEARCH initiative is supported, financially and technically, by IMELS through the Italian Trust Fund (ITF).

Geographical scope: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Ukraine

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SINPHONIE (Schools Indoor Pollution and Health: Observatory Network in Europe)

The EU-funded research project SINPHONIE (2010–2012) was jointly managed by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety and the Joint Research Centre. The project monitored air quality and related exposure among 5,175 schoolchildren in 114 primary schools in 23 European countries. It allowed for the assessment of the impact of poor air quality on children’s health, growth, learning performance and development. The project brought together the multidisciplinary expertise of partners from 25 countries.

SINPHONIE has recently published its conclusions. Based on the evidence gathered, the Joint Research Centre and the project partners developed guidelines for maintaining good air quality. They are expected to contribute to healthier school environments in Europe. Based on the findings, the SINPHONIE report states that in order to guarantee good air quality in schools, attention needs to be paid to ventilation and occupation densities.

Guidelines for healthy and sustainable schools
Specific guidelines were developed to promote a cost-effective preventive approach to indoor air quality control. They cover aspects such as cleaning, ventilation, heating, equipment use, and structural requirements for school buildings. They also contain specific tips for creating a healthy environment in classrooms, science labs, gyms, school canteens, locker rooms and recreational areas.

The guidelines are intended to complement already existing efforts at national and local level. They are directed at policy makers and local authorities who are able to undertake actions, but they can also support construction companies, school staff, children and their parents in their aim to make schools healthier.

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Geographical scope: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, The Netherlands, United Kingdom

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