Veolia has been an expert in air quality for many years, whether this involves eliminating odors from wastewater treatment plants, treating fumes and capturing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from industrial activities, or guaranteeing clean air in clean rooms and hospital operating theaters. All these are assets when it comes to entering an indoor air pollution control market that is set to see strong development. For this reason, in addition to mobilizing its Research & Innovation teams, the Group has co-founded the AIRLAB incubator along with the developer Icade, among others. Overseen by Airparif, a body authorized by the French Ministry of the Environment to monitor air quality in the Paris region, this shared platform hosts a project dedicated to innovative micro-sensors for measuring and continually acting on indoor air quality. These sensors meet several criteria in terms of cost, ergonomics, and precision, along with the capacity to control ventilation or recycle indoor air, and measure numerous parameters such as hygrometry, CO2 particulate, and volatile organic compound levels.
“Constantly breathing polluted air has an impact on our health,” Frédéric Bouvier, Head of Veolia’s Air Center of Excellence, reminds us. “However, in our countries, in which we spend over 80% of our time in enclosed environments such as housing, offices, schools and public transport, we are potentially highly exposed to the many pollutants present in the air throughout our life.” To reduce the risks and improve indoor air quality, action must be taken on three sources of pollution:
- utdoor air, which infiltrates into the building, including the famous ultrafine particles (PM2.5), the most dangerous to health;
- building materials and furniture (carpet, paints, pressed wood, etc.);
- the activity of the premises’ occupants (housework, DIY, smoking, home fragrances, etc.).
The indoor air quality in France is considered to be poor in 60% of housing. Moreover, three in five classrooms are not equipped with ventilation and air handling units. This is also true of half of offices and 34% of tertiary premises in France. This has heavy consequences for the local authority1, which must bear costs of around 19 billion euros linked to poor indoor air quality, including premature deaths, covering healthcare costs, lost productivity at work, etc. One of the most exposed groups is children, whose respiratory tract is still developing.
New integrated offering
Veolia is committed to guaranteeing quality air through a new Air Quality Solutions offering, launched in 2019 and offering three complementary services:
- diagnosis and continuous monitoring of various pollutants, thanks to a selection of highly adapted sensors that are among the most sophisticated on the market (Air Control);
- air treatment, via the installation of dedicated equipment, or even reinforcing the equipment that already exists in certain buildings, and controlling it in the long term (Air Performance);
- information and education among occupants and managers, so that they adopt pollutionreducing behaviors (Air Human).
This offering is tailored to each type of interior, whether offices, educational and medical establishments, shopping malls, hotels, etc. And because maintaining quality air in classrooms is indispensable for a better learning experience and an improvement in children’s concentration, Veolia has adapted and transposed its technologies designed for hospital operating theaters or clean rooms to schools. The aim is to neutralize all sources of pollution and treat air flows circulating inside educational establishments.
Demonstration in schools
Following the Elabe study carried out for Veolia in 2019, which particularly highlighted parents’ deep concern about the air quality inside the schools their children attended (see key figures), Veolia and Le Raincy town council joined forces to keep a promise that is one of a kind in France: guaranteeing 100% unpolluted air in the town’s classrooms. Since September 2019, two elementary schools and almost 600 pupils have benefitted from the “Dans mon école, c’est le Bon Air” [“My school’s a breath of fresh air”] operation, thanks to the full deployment of Veolia’s new (monitoring, treatment and awareness-raising) offering in the guise of “Rob’Air,” a robot that protects children’s health and helps them concentrate and therefore work better.
“The aim of the demonstrator is to show the Group’s capacity to rapidly roll out solutions to guarantee quality air. Veolia has adopted a position that favors a result-oriented over a resource-oriented target,” states Frédéric Bouvier.
Air Control audits the air quality using sensors selected by Airparif and AIRLAB installed in classrooms. Air Performance purifies and guarantees the quality over time. Air Human raises awareness among adults and children using educational tools such as the Rob’Air robot, enabling them to play an active role in the quality of the air they breathe in their school. One of the first findings from this operation has been confirmation of the efficacy of the Air Performance installations. They have already lowered the ppm concentration of CO2 in classrooms below the regulatory threshold of 1,000 ppm, whereas measurements generally display a concentration of 4,000 to 5,000 ppm in a classroom after several hours’ lessons. In the interests of transparency regarding positive changes to air quality, Veolia provides the town council with “Indoor air quality” indicators that summarize the pollution levels of each classroom and shares the data with teachers and parents.
From Le Raincy to the rest of the world
With its diversified new offering, Veolia offers many regional players the opportunity to take local action to improve indoor air quality. The solution deployed in Le Raincy has now been implemented in high schools in the Paris region as well as the Group’s head office. Veolia is supporting cities the world over to guarantee clean air for users of buildings such as offices in Shanghai, hospitals in Korea, and a museum in Italy. This international rollout makes Veolia the only company on the market to date to offer solutions ranging from auditing to remediation, to guarantee indoor air quality while optimizing energy consumption.
1. Exploratory study of the socio-economic cost of indoor air pollution, The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (Anses), Observatory of Indoor Air Quality (OQAI) and Pierre Kopp, Economics professor at Panthéon- Sorbonne University (Paris 1), April 2014.
92% of urban populations worldwide do not breathe clean air. (WHO)
Air pollution could cost up to 1% of global GDP in 2060, according to the OECD.
Outdoor air pollution is said to have caused 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2016, with indoor air pollution causing 3.8 million deaths. (WHO)
59% of parents are concerned about the quality of the air that their children are breathing in schools. This concern is heightened by a lack of information: 81% state that they are poorly informed.
(Elabe study conducted in September 2019 for Veolia on a representative sample of metropolitan residents aged over 18).
Warsaw optimizes its district heating network all the better to breathe
Every winter the Polish capital is subject to smog episodes — a thick brownish mist from a mixture of air pollutants, primarily made up of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide particulates — that covers it. This cloud is partly caused by chimneys from individual housing, especially the lowest-income households, with coal-based heating.
In order to combat this problem, which is becoming a public health issue, the municipal authorities formed a strategic partnership with Veolia in 2017 with a view to optimizing the management of the district heating system, which is the largest in the European Union with 1,700 km of pipelines over 190 km. The program, known as Smart District Heating Network, bore fruit from the very first year, during which actions on electricity consumption, waste heat and shortcomings in the system prevented the emission of 22,700 metric tons of CO2. Logically, the city council invited Veolia to join the anti-smog program that it initiated in 2018. The aim is to encourage residents to change their mostly polluting heating methods, steering them toward gas boilers or a connection to the district heating network. The resolution stipulates that obsolete individual boilers that do not comply with standards must be removed by the end of 2022. In 2019 alone, this collaboration allowed 44 buildings to be connected to the network, contributing to a 40% reduction in pollution from coal-fired stoves, and respectively a 34% and 23% reduction in sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.