The indoor air quality of 27 primary schools located in the city centre and suburbs of Antwerp, Belgium, was assessed. The primary aim was to obtain correlations between the various pollutant levels. Indoor:outdoor ratios and the building and classroom characteristics of each school were investigated. This paper presents results on indoor and local outdoor PM2.5 mass concentrations, its elemental composition in terms of K, Ca, Ti, V, Cr, Mn, Fe, Ni, Cu, Zn, Br, Pb, Al, Si, S, and Cl, and its black smoke content. In addition, indoor and local outdoor levels of the gases NO2, SO2, O3, and BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene isomers) were determined. Black smoke, NO2, SO2 and O3, occurred at indoor:outdoor ratios below unity, indicating their significant outdoor sources. No linear correlation was established between indoor and outdoor levels for PM2.5 mass concentrations and BTEX; their indoor:outdoor ratios exceeded unity except for benzene. Classroom PM2.5 occurred with a different elemental composition than local outdoor PM2.5. The re-suspension of dust because of room occupation is probably the main contributor for the I/O ratios higher than 1 reported for elements typically constituting dust particles. Finally, increased benzene concentrations were reported for classrooms located at the lower levels.
Practical implications: The elevated indoor PM2.5, and BTEX concentrations in primary school classrooms, exceeding the ambient concentrations, raise concerns about possible adverse health effects on susceptible children. This is aggravated by the presence of carpets and in the case of classrooms at lower levels. Analysis of PM2.5's elemental composition indicated a considerable contribution of soil dust to indoor PM2.5 mass. In order to set adequate threshold values and guidelines, detailed information on the health impact of specific PM2.5 composites is needed. The results suggest that local outdoor air concentrations measurements do not provide an accurate estimation of children's personal exposures to the identified air pollutants inside classrooms.