In 2005, the Government undertook a study [1] into indoor air quality in eight primary schools across England, finding that as much as 21 per cent of classrooms exceeded 300μg m3 guideline levels of airborne chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In fact, some rooms had double the recommended concentration, with implications for health. View how VOC level can be reduced in schools with British Gypsum ACTIVair.

VOCs are emitted into the atmosphere from a range of sources, including new furnishings and cleaning products, and in high doses can cause a number of health issues in children and adults that impact classroom performance. Formaldehyde, the most prevalent VOC, has been shown to cause headaches, lethargy, reduced concentration and asthma attacks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) concerns about formaldehyde in relation to human health are well published. [2]

The study found some of the highest VOC concentrations in classrooms where art lessons commonly took place, caused by pupils using paints and glues. Schools built after 1995 posted high VOC levels, with new carpets, wall paint and furnishings identified as key sources. 

All rooms sampled had windows that could be opened and other ventilation solutions, but these were proving insufficient to disperse VOCs on their own. In fact, other studies have shown that ventilation systems alone only reduce VOC levels by between 10 and 30 per cent. 

Putting VOCs in detention
VOCs come from a variety of sources and are unavoidable in the school environment. A number of increasingly popular methods tackle VOC contamination at the source. ‘Low VOC’ construction materials, such as adhesives, carpets and paints, have been reformulated to release fewer VOCs than standard products, both during and after construction. 

However, such solutions do not address chemicals released by pupils’ paint supplies or new furnishings brought in post-handover, so it is vital specifiers consider products to use alongside ventilation that actively reduce VOC levels in the atmosphere.

Ensuring top marks for air quality
To tackle this, British Gypsum has developed its innovative ACTIVair technology which actively absorbs formaldehyde from the atmosphere and converts it into inert compounds to prevent re-emission. The technology has been shown to remove 70% of the formaldehyde concentration in the indoor air [3], producing cleaner air for at least 50 years, making it a long-term air quality solution. ACTIVair technology is available across British Gypsum’s Gyproc DuraLine, Gyproc SoundBloc and Rigidur H plasterboards, ThistlePro PureFinish plaster and Gyptone ceiling tiles. This means the technology can be used throughout a building to maximise formaldehyde absorption, optimising air quality. ACTIVair works effectively under paint finishes and does not affect the fire or acoustic properties of the plasterboard or ceiling tile it is incorporated in.

Balancing the air quality equation
As the Government’s report shows, VOCs are an ongoing problem in schools. As buildings become more airtight due to changes in Building Regulations, to optimise energy efficiency, the quality of indoor air will come even more important.

However, with advancements, such as ACTIVair, in addition to ventilation, specifiers can minimise formaldehyde levels to boost air quality, providing a top-mark classroom environment that safeguards the well-being of children and adults. 

[1] Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality in Schools Guidance Report 202825

[2] WHO guidelines for indoor air quality : selected pollutants; 2010

[3] The effectiveness of ACTIVair technology has been tested by the accredited Eurofins laboratory, which showed that ACTIVair decomposes 70 per cent of the formaldehyde in a controlled environment.

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