33 Putting VOCs in detention

Matthew Sexton of British Gypsum looks at the effects air quality can have on a child’s academic performance and development – and recommends solutions to improve air quality

t is widely known that outdoor air pollution can have an impact on an individual’s health, however it is impor- tant that people understand the effects indoor air pollution can have on children’s health, wellbeing and development, especially within schools where pupils will come into contact with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde. Aside from sleeping and perhaps playing, there is no other activity that occupies a child’s time as much as attending school, and there is no single enclosure in which they spend more time than they do in the classroom. With this in mind, it is vital that school environments are designed with great care; with thermal comfort, lighting, acoustics and most importantly, air quality all thoroughly considered. When it comes to air quality it’s taken for granted that the air we breathe is clean and pollutant-free. However this isn’t always the case. Impurities found in both our living and working spaces can cause health problems and reduce performance – especially in educational buildings, where it can have a negative effect on pupils and staff alike.


In 2005 the Government undertook a study into indoor air quality (IAQ) in eight primary schools across England. The study found that formaldehyde levels inside the school were up 42 times greater than those outside of the school. It also found that 21 per cent of classrooms exceeded 300 μg m guideline levels of Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs) – some rooms even had double the recommended concentra- tion, with implications for health. Formaldehyde has been shown to cause headaches, lethargy, reduced concentration and breathing problems. You can’t see or smell formaldehyde, so without thorough testing, there is no way of knowing the intensity levels a pupil in a school or univer- sity is being exposed to on a daily basis, or if it’s hindering students and teachers from performing well, specifically on tasks requiring attention and memory.

ADF JUNE 2017 Therefore good IAQ is important to

provide a safe, healthy, productive and comfortable environment for students, teachers and other school staff – particu- larly as Building Regulations push for more airtight constructions, which could result in a worse situation. For specifiers, improving the indoor environment is a major consideration among clients and building occupants, most notably those concerned with sustainability and health and wellbeing. Good clean air can reduce health problems as well as enhance healthy living in both work and living spaces. It is therefore important that products that emit low VOCs are chosen as part of the building fabric and finishes, however it is difficult to control every potential formaldehyde source that comes into a building on an on-going basis. However, thanks to the advancements in technology, specifiers will now be able to minimise formaldehyde levels to boost air quality throughout the life of the building, by choosing products that incorporate ACTIVair. ACTIVair is a new technology that has been tested by the accredited Eurofins laboratory. The test shows that ACTIVair neutralises up to 70 per cent of the formaldehyde in the indoor air. Incorporated during the manufacturing process, it remains active for the average life span of a building, at least 50 years – making it a long term air quality solution. ACTIVair also contributes towards two BREEAM points under indoor air quality as part of a management and handover test plan, and doesn’t impact on performance regarding fire, acoustics and durability. To ensure that you are creating an educa- tional environment that can contribute to the health and performance of students and staff, it is recommended that you liaise with a reputable manufacturer for expert advice including on the latest product developments.

Matthew Sexton is commercial sector market manager at British Gypsum


When it comes to air quality it is taken for granted that the air we breathe is clean and pollutant-free

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