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We mustn’t bury our head in the sand over indoor air quality

The Guardian revealed last week that negative findings from a 2013 report on London’s air pollution, which included worrying statistics relating to air quality within schools, were held back.

The Aether report (‘Analysing Air Pollution Exposure in London’) revealed that 433 of the capital’s 1,777 primary schools were situated in areas where nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations exceeded EU limits. NO2 inhalation can exacerbate respiratory conditions including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema and 5,900 deaths in London during 2010 were attributed to long-term exposure to the pollutant.

Of the 433 schools in question, it was found that 82 per cent were located in deprived communities, where more than four in 10 pupils are eligible for free school meals.

The suppression of the report is even more damning because at the time the then major Boris Johnson was promoting the Cleaner Air 4 Schools campaign.

The problem of air quality within schools isn’t confined to London, however. A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) study found that as many as 3,000 English schools expose pupils to dangerous levels of NO2. Children are particularly susceptible to air pollution because:

  • Their lungs and immune systems are still developing
  • They breathe at a faster rate than adults and therefore inhale more air
  • They tend to breathe through their mouths (pollutants can be filtered, to an extent, through the nose)

While playgrounds located next to busy roads have been cited as a major factor in this growing problem, it’s important to recognise that children may not necessarily be much safer in the classroom. Poor indoor environmental and air quality (IEAQ) and its effect on vulnerable people such as children, the elderly and those in poor health is becoming increasingly well documented.

Older school buildings often rely on open windows to provide ventilation, which simply allows pollutants to enter, whereas some modern schools are so well insulated that ventilation becomes inadequate.

This conundrum may be solved via the installation or upgrade of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems within schools. A well-performing HVAC system ensures outdoor air is properly filtered before entering occupied spaces, while ultraviolet-C (UVC) light technology can eradicate contaminants in ductwork and on air handling unit (AHU) surfaces.

Gibbons has dedicated divisions providing supply, installation, maintenance and repair of HVAC equipment and specialist UVC systems, with many years’ experience serving the education sector.

To find out more about our clean indoor air solutions for schools and other educational buildings, call Andrew Knight on 07850 204915 or email

HVAC Services, Ultraviolet Solutions

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