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Pupils protest poor indoor air quality in Kuopio schools

Primary school students and their parents staged a rare demonstration in Kuopio on Friday. They picketed outside the school building to protest the city's lack of action over mould and indoor air problems in the building.

Anne Väänänen, Petra Väänänen, Hilla Lappalainen ja Alisa Rissanen (eturivissä) sekä Virpi Lappalainen, Ronja Rissanen ja Unna Lappalainen mielenilmauksessa Melalahden koululla.
Fight for your right: Children protesting against indoor air problems in Kuopio. Image: Helmi Nykänen / Yle

Primary school students and their parents marched out of the Riistavesi and Melalahti schools in Kuopio on Friday, chanting that the city must build them new school buildings. The reason behind the demos is that students and teachers alike are suffering from the below-standard indoor air quality.

"I can't breathe properly after PE class, and it won't be nice to study here if things don't change," 6th-grader Ronja Rissanen says.

The primary Riistavesi school and the secondary Melalahti school share the same problem, and children are now voicing their discontent. About 120 children protested at the Melalahti school, while half of the 100-strong primary school pupils at Riistavesi picketed with signs.

The demonstration continues with a school strike on Monday, when a majority of students will skip school to protest the mould and ventilation problems.

Severe problems

Families report that the poor indoor air quality has created real health problems. Mother of five Virpi Lappalainen lists coughing, headaches, skin conditions, labored breathing, fatigue and runny noses as symptoms that have increased while her children have attended the schools.

"The kids complain about symptoms right after the weekend and during school holidays they feel better, so it's quite clear that the school's indoor air is to blame," Lappalainen says.

Melalahti parents' association chair Hannele Ahonen says the severity of the problem is illustrated by the fact that one teacher and one student can no longer attend the secondary school because of its air quality issues.

"Officials oblivious"

Kuopio's property unit chief of customer services Heikki Kekäläinen says that the indoor air quality problems at the Riistavesi school are "local" and do not require large-scale renovation.

But 9th-grade students Nelli Martikainen and Kiia Cork say the issue is far worse than the city thinks. The most severe symptoms arise in the English, chemistry and physics classrooms of their school building.

The girls have attended both the primary and the secondary school, leading to worries that they might have been exposed to enough mould to affect their health as adults.

"The city doesn't know what it's like here, they don't spend hours here every day," Martikainen says.

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