School indoor air quality pollution
Now that most U.S. elementary and secondary students are back in the books, it’s a good time for parents to ask not only what their children are reading and writing, but also what they’re breathing.
One EPA statistic says that more than 50 percent of our schools have poor indoor air quality. The causes are not dissimilar from those that can reduce the healthfulness of air in homes, chiefly uncirculated air and chemicals from carpets, furnishings and cleaning materials. In addition, many older schools may be full of books whose bindings and accumulated mold produce small clouds of allergens. Chalk dust. Paint with high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
The air quality of school air is especially meaningful, not only because children spend so much in the sprawling buildings, but because they are more vulnerable to pollutants generally. First, they breathe more air proportionate to their size than do adults. Also, because they are still growing, they are more susceptible to long-term damage. Their smaller size puts them closer to the ground, where pollutants—mostly heavier than “regular air”—tend to accumulate.
Fortunately, experts are aware of the problem, and some have devised a solutions-based approach ameliorating it. In particular, the EPA has stepped up with its release of the Indoor Air Quality Tools for School: Providing a Framework for Success.
The program addresses both technical solutions and key drivers.
The EPA recommends this step-by-step approach to managing attempts to improve the quality of indoor air for schools:
- ORGANIZE by defining standards and a system to meet them, empower a leader and create champions.
- COMMUNICATE goals and the importance of good indoor air quality. Be transparent and inclusive, and share the definition of ROI.
- ASSES the current situation by walking the grounds, talking to others and employing measuring technology.
- PLAN by casting goals in writing, with prioritized actions divided into manageable stages. Start small. Plan for the future.
- ACT by executing the plan.
- EVALUATE by showing results and ROI, as well as soliciting feedback from stakeholders.
The report suggests using the drivers to address six areas where technological solutions can be applied. They are:
- Quality HVAC equipment and maintenance
- Control of moisture and mold
- Strong integrated pest management
- Effective cleaning and maintenance
- Smart materials selection
- Aggressive source control (that is, monitoring the plant for adherence)
Parents can and should be involved. In particular, children prone to breathing problems or allergies should feel empowered to talk with officials on either the school or district level. It’s not enough to make sure the air in our homes and workplaces is up to snuff. Our students - voiceless in the matter - need advocacy, too.
Image source: www.shutterstock.com
Ken Nelson Ken Nelson is the Northwest Regional Sales Manager for the Panasonic Eco Products Division, specializing in ventilation solutions for residential and multi-family living environments. Over the past four years, Ken has spoken throughout the Northwest, teaching and training builders, building science advocates and professionals on the physics of moisture and air movement in homes of all sizes, types and age.