Indoor air quality in schools often fails to meet minimum standards, and student performance is clearly diminished when ventilation rates are low, according to a recent analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
Elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide have been documented in schools across the U.S., Europe and Asia, the study finds. "These CO2 data indicate a widespread failure to provide the minimum amount of ventilation specified in standards for classrooms," writes author William J. Fisk of Berkeley Lab's Indoor Environment Group. Fisk conducted a review of relevant literature published in refereed archival journals.
Insufficient ventilation increases levels of indoor-generated air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds, which can contribute to respiratory health problems. Increasing ventilation—or the supply of outdoor air to a building—can improve air quality. In schools, the Berkeley Lab analysis shows, better air is linked with improved student attendance and performance. Students' cognitive performance increased by as much as 15 percent when ventilation rates were improved, Fisk notes.
Though boosting ventilation rates does impose energy costs, the analysis finds, those costs range from a few dollars to about $10 per person per year—less than 0.1 percent of typical public spending on elementary and secondary education in the U.S.
Fisk's paper is published in Indoor Air Journal and posted at Berkeley Lab's Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank, which offers details and research insights on a variety of topics, including building ventilation and its impact on schools, homes and offices; what is known about the efficacy of different types of air cleaning; and the effects of dampness and mold.
Further details are available at the Indoor Environment Group's website, which summarizes a range of research initiatives aimed at improving our understanding of pollution in the built environment and evaluating energy-efficient ways to improve indoor air quality.