Blamed for 100 deaths per year, indoor air pollution is totally ignored by Tunisian legislation (Expert)

Tunis: Poor indoor air quality in homes and workplaces is an "invisible killer," blamed for the deaths of 100 people in Tunisia every year, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). However, this invisible killer is still ignored by the Tunisian legislation, and data on the subject has been lacking at national level since the report has been published, according to indoor air quality expert Ilyes Chakroun. Air pollution is classified as a type 1 (proven) carcinogen for human beings by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Polluted indoor air means that it contains pollutants such as fine particles, nitrogen oxides, ozone, organic compounds and sulphur dioxide. This can lead to a lack of concentration in pupils, and ultimately to respiratory illnesses, strokes and abortions, explains Ilyes Chakroun in a TV interview with TAP. "We spend more than 80% of our time in enclosed spaces, so we have to make sure that the air we breathe inside is decarbonised and that there is enough oxygen," he underlined. "In Tunisia, however, a survey by the Ministry of Education (2023) revealed that more than 81% of all classrooms in primary schools and over 57% of activity rooms in kindergartens and nurseries do not meet hygrothermal comfort standards (which means ensuring a constant temperature at all times of year (between 18 and 20°C). Humidity levels in these places vary between 40 and 60%. This is why children in these establishments are often ill, suffering from bronchitis and respiratory problems," Chakroun explained. In the regions of Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, 100% of children under the age of 5 are exposed to levels of air pollution (fine particles PM2.5) in excess of the levels recommended by WHO, the expert recalled. He recommended in this regard, that the issue of indoor air quality should be given more attention, as the lack of legislation, studies and data on the values and concentration s of fine particles in indoor air in Tunisia is in itself a major problem. However, Tunisia is the third country in the world to guarantee in its constitution, the right to a healthy environment under article 47 of the Constitution, which stipulates that "the State guarantees the right to a healthy and balanced environment and contributes to the protection of the environment. It is therefore incumbent on the State to provide the means necessary to prevent environmental pollution," but there is no legislation to implement this, and as a result the number of violations and attacks against human health, especially in the workplace, is on the rise. "Under company and business laws, the legislator is required to protect every employee or worker against any exposure to health risks. This is certainly a positive point, but everyone should be made aware of the need to protect this right, including occupational physicians, the judiciary (judges, etc.) and others," he considered. As regards solutions, the expert cal ls for rethinking interior design, from building materials to furniture and paint products, since all these materials give off emissions. "It is also necessary to anticipate the risks of new pandemics due to climate change, to hasten the introduction of legislative frameworks and laws setting particle concentration values and tools for measuring these values, and to invest in air purifiers in schools and sensitive government establishments." As far as consumers are concerned, Chakroun recommends guaranteeing the right to information and to an allergen sheet, product labelling and compliance with standards in general. It is also advisable to ensure that ventilation systems are installed inside homes and premises, to change air conditioning filters before each use (summer/winter) and to ensure that ventilation systems operate in accordance with standards. According to a profile of air pollution in Tunisia drawn up by the Directorate of Environmental Health and Protection, "over a million tonnes of pollutants are emitted into the air in Tunisia every year. Fine particles are the most important pollutant (52.5%)." Air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. New data from WHO shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution. Source: Agence Tunis Afrique Presse