Airborne particles inside classrooms can be more toxic than those outside

Poor air quality in schools is a growing concern, with budget cuts meaning schools are delaying building works and classrooms are becoming over crowded. In addition, in a bid to save energy, new-build classrooms are more tightly sealed against drafts. This means that if heating and ventilation systems are not in place and working effectively, the classrooms trap stale air that in draughty days of yore would be blown out of classrooms on an ongoing basis.

Stale air could be air that is moist and thus more likely to harbour mold spores, air that contains chemical residues from cleaning products, air ‘fresheners’, dust, cigarette smoke, hairsprays, deodorants or toxic paint fumes.

In a study from the University of Munich, published in the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, researchers found that higher concentrations of particulate matter (PM10) were present in indoor classroom air compare to outdoor air. They concluded that indoor PM10 was six times higher than outdoor PM10, and indoor PM10 induced more inflammatory and allergenic reactions, as well as accelerated blood coagulation. Outdoor PM10 induced detoxifying enxymes. The researchers suggested that increased ventilation be introduced into classrooms in order to reduce PM10 levels in classrooms, and the incidence and possibility of any reactions.

A new device has been developed to detect high levels of CO2 in classrooms, and which is able to collect data on air quality in classrooms for 450 hours. The machine would only need to be recalibrated to ensure accuracy once or twice and year, and is less expensive than other air monitors. Presented to scientists at the American Chemical Society by Dr Jack N Driscoll who developed the sensor at PID Analyzers in Massachusetts, USA, once the monitor has evaluated the air quality in the classroom, improving the air quality may be as simple as changing a dirty air filter or adjusting the ventilation blowers in the heating and cooling system to work faster.

Source: American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology
Source: American Chemical Society

First published in August 2012

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