Exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) has been an indoor environmental quality (IEQ) concern in schools and other buildings for many years. Newer designs, construction practices and building materials for “green” buildings and the use of “environmentally friendly” products have the promise of lowering chemical exposure. This study examines VOCs and IEQ parameters in 144 classrooms in 37 conventional and high performance elementary schools in the U.S. with the objectives of providing a comprehensive analysis and updating the literature. Tested schools were built or renovated in the past 15 years, and included comparable numbers of conventional, Energy Star, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings. Indoor and outdoor VOC samples were collected and analyzed by thermal desorption, gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy for 94 compounds. Aromatics, alkanes and terpenes were the major compound groups detected. Most VOCs had mean concentrations below 5 µg/m3
, and most indoor/outdoor concentration ratios ranged from one to 10. For 16 VOCs, the within-school variance of concentrations exceeded that between schools and, overall, no major differences in VOC concentrations were found between conventional and high performance buildings. While VOC concentrations have declined from levels measured in earlier decades, opportunities remain to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) by limiting emissions from building-related sources and by increasing ventilation rates.
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