In response to parent complaints about air quality, the French School of Beijing (Lycée Français International Charles-de-Gaulle de Pékin) has taken action to assure children are not exposed to undue air pollutants at their new campus in the Laiguangying area of northeast Chaoyang District.
The campus, which was purpose-built for the school’s use and opened to students in May, has a sophisticated air filtration system built into its DNA. However, the system is primarily designed to fight the PM 2.5 air pollution that plagues all of Beijing. What’s been causing issues for the French School are some of the brand-new interior furnishings, which are commonly known to off-gas Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) when they are new.
According to a school statement released June 20, the buildings’ air quality had been tested and approved in January, but more recent air quality analyses revealed that VOCs have exceeded safe levels in some areas.
The issue came to light after the school’s students moved in this May, with some parents complaining that their children were getting ill from fumes inside the school. Other parents reached for comment have indicated that their children remain in school and have had no problems.
Testing allowed the school to identify three areas where the VOCs were coming from: equipment in the gymnasium and the auditorium as well as doors to the closets located in some classrooms.
In response, the school has closed the gymnasium and auditorium to ventilate the areas to allow the VOCs to off-gas and have removed the suspect closet doors.
Louie Cheng, founder of Pure Living China, an indoor air quality consultancy, said that VOCs are a common indoor air problem that comes from many furnishings and interior decorations, such as paint and fiberboard. Temperature, humidity and airflow can all affect the speed at which VOCs are released. The process can take anywhere from several months to several years to fully off-gas if left on its own; however there are various measures that can be taken to accelerate the process, some of which the French school will be employing over the summer to make sure the issue will be resolved before school restarts in the fall.
The French School have kept all school parents informed of testing results and posted results to their website to allay parent concerns.
In their June 20 statement, French school administration said that the equipment in question came with certificates supposedly guaranteeing their safety and the school is considering legal action against companies that provided false safety certificates.
The 3e International School, which was due to move its elementary program into the new campus at the start of the academic year in September, has decided to postpone the move until January 2017.
In the mean time, the French School remains in session until the end of June before taking its summer break and resuming in September.
Photo: courtesy of LFIP