Ultrafine particles in indoor air of a school: possible role of secondary organic aerosols

There has been increasing concern in recent years over the health effects of airborne ultrafine particles as evidence suggests that they can be toxic when inhaled into the lungs. Much of the scientific research, however, has focused on outdoor sources of these invisible particles, particularly vehicle emissions while little has been done on indoor sources, and even less on ultrafine particles in school classrooms. Now scientists in Australia and Germany have reported the results of a study in three elementary school in Brisbane, Australia, in the semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology.


The aim of this work was to investigate ultrafine particles (<0.1 μm) in primary school classrooms, in relation to the classroom activities. The investigations were conducted in three classrooms during two measuring campaigns, which together encompassed a period of 60 days.
Initial investigations showed that under the normal operating conditions of the school there were many occasions in all three classrooms where indoor particle concentrations increased significantly compared to outdoor levels. By far the highest increases in the classroom resulted from art activities (painting, gluing, and drawing), at times reaching over 1.4 × 105 particle cm−3.
The indoor particle concentrations exceeded outdoor concentrations by approximately 1 order of magnitude, with a count median diameter ranging from 20 to 50 nm.
Significant increases also occurred during cleaning activities, when detergents were used. GC-MS analysis conducted on 4 samples randomly selected from about 30 different paints and glues, as well as the detergent used in the school, showed that d-limonene was one of the main organic compounds of the detergent, however, it was not detected in the samples of the paints and the glue.
Controlled experiments showed that this monoterpene, emitted from the detergent, reacted with O3 (at outdoor ambient concentrations ranging from 0.06 to 0.08 ppm) and formed secondary organic aerosols.
Further investigations to identify other liquids that may be potential sources of the precursors of secondary organic aerosols were outside the scope of this project, however, it is expected that the problem identified by this study could be more widely spread, since most primary schools use liquid materials for art classes, and all schools use detergents for cleaning.
Further studies are therefore recommended to better understand this phenomenon and also to minimize exposure of school children to ultrafine particles from these indoor sources.

Ultrafine Particles in Indoor Air of a School: Possible Role of Secondary Organic Aerosols Lidia Morawska, Congrong He, Graham Johnson, Hai Guo, Erik Uhde and Godwin Ayoko
Environ. Sci. Technol., 2009, 43 (24), pp 9103–9109

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First Published in 2009


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