Indoor Air
Volume 14 Issue 3 Page 154 - June 2004

Evidence of inadequate ventilation in portable classrooms: results of a pilot study in Los Angeles County
D. G. Shendell1,2, A. M. Winer1, R. Weker3, S. D. Colome4


The prevalence of prefabricated, portable classrooms (portables) for United States public schools has increased; in California, approximately one of three students learn inside portables. Limited research has been conducted on indoor air and environmental quality in American schools, and almost none in portables. Available reports and conference proceedings suggest problems from insufficient ventilation due to poor design, operation, and/or maintenance of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; most portables have one mechanical, wall-mounted HVAC system. A pilot assessment was conducted in Los Angeles County, including measurements of integrated ventilation rates based on a perfluorocarbon tracer gas technique and continuous monitoring of temperature (T) and relative humidity (RH). Measured ventilation rates were low [mean school day integrated average 0.8 per hour (range: 0.1-2.9 per hour)]. Compared with relevant standards, results suggested adequate ventilation and associated conditioning of indoor air for occupant comfort were not always provided to these classrooms. Future school studies should include integrated and continuous measurements of T, RH, and ventilation with appropriate tracer gas methods, and other airflow measures.

Practical Implications

Adequate ventilation has the potential to mitigate concentrations of chemical pollutants, particles, carbon dioxide, and odors in portable and traditional classrooms, which should lead to a reduction in reported health outcomes, e.g., symptoms of 'sick building syndrome', allergies, asthma. Investigations of school indoor air and environmental quality should include continuous temperature and relative humidity data with inexpensive instrumentation as indicators of thermal comfort, and techniques to measure ventilation rates.