Action needed on 'alarmingly poor' air quality in new schools


04 April 2024

Ventilation specialist Elta is calling for action to tackle the issue of 'alarmingly poor' air quality in new schools.

With nearly nine out of ten new school sites above the World Health Organisation (WHO) targets on major air pollutants, Elta is urging decision makers for schools’ building services to address the problem through a ‘three-step’ process to ventilation specification and maintenance. 

The call follows a study led by researchers from Evelina London Children’s Hospital and King’s College London (KCL). Following their analysis of 147 new school locations around England that were to be built between 2017 and 2025, the researchers found that 86% of those sites exceeded air quality targets. The targets are for particulate matter PM2.5, PM10, and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), leading to the conclusion that air quality around new schools is “alarmingly poor”.

With emerging studies also showing that poor air quality leads to lowered cognitive growth, ventilation specialist Elta outlines three measures to tackle the problem. The three steps are aimed at preventing poor air from entering the school building and classrooms, including:

1.    Installing air monitoring equipment in schools to identify concentrations of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and other contributors to poor air quality
2.    Using correctly specified mechanical ventilation systems to process and filter air of harmful particulate matter and substances, to bring indoor air quality to a safe level
3.    Having a robust maintenance schedule in place to clean ventilation equipment on a regular basis

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David Millward, Group Product Manager at Elta Group, parent company of Elta, said: “This latest study by Evelina London Children’s Hospital and King’s College London is a harsh wake-up call to everybody in the country and is a reminder that poor air quality has a real detrimental effect on children. Not only is it harmful from a health perspective, putting pupils with respiratory conditions like asthma at higher risk, but poor air also impairs children’s learning and ability to concentrate.

“While outdoor air is hard to regulate, there are some immediate steps that decision makers for building services can take to improve indoor air quality in schools. Through three simple steps of air quality monitoring, correct specification of mechanical ventilation systems, and regular maintenance of these systems, we can at least prevent poor air from making its way into the classroom.”

Millward highlights that Approved Document F – Ventilation – Volume 2 of the Building Regulations gives guidance about air quality monitoring requirements in buildings other than dwellings. Meanwhile, ventilation decision makers for schools should follow guidance given in the UK Government’s Building Bulletin, BB 101, to understand the framework for ventilation in schools and recommended performance levels to comply with UK regulations. Millward also urges those in charge of building services for schools to collaborate with ventilation experts to ensure best practice and compliance is achieved.

He concluded: “With better collaboration across the supply chain, we can protect the next generation from the effects of poor air quality, and improve indoor air quality across new schools, as well as old. At Elta, our ventilation experts are always available to help provide guidance and help design ventilation systems, either for new build schools or for retrofitting to existing school stock.”