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How Poor Air Quality Affects Schools

poor air quality in schools

When we send our kids to school, we expect they're in good hands. Between the teachers and administrators, students should have a watchful eye looking over them, making sure they stick to the books and avoid trouble. We also expect they're learning in a clean and healthy environment.

But, what if they're not?

A study from the U.S. Department of Education found that in the mid 1990s, one in five U.S. schools reported unsuitable indoor air quality. Now, millions of students across the country are still subjected to unhealthy air quality in schools, on a daily basis.

Side Effects From Poor Air Quality In Schools

  • Increased Absences - Students miss class quite often, due to respiratory infections, allergies, and adverse reactions from exposure to chemicals used in classrooms.
  • Students Have Lower Concentration Levels - Because of higher carbon dioxide levels and poor indoor ventilation, many students easily lose focus during school, ultimately hurting their education. Other environmental factors that can make it more difficult to focus include abnormal temperature and particulate matter levels.
  • Dampness And Mold Leads To Irritation - Coughing, throat irritation, exhaustion, headaches and wheezing are all detrimental to young, compromised immune systems. High levels of humidity can promote mold growth.
  • Teachers Job are Made More Difficult - While much of the focus of indoor air pollution in schools is on the student, we cannot forget the impact on teachers. They are in the same indoor environment with the same health and well-being issues. Teachers also face the added task of trying to teach in an environment where students find it harder to learn.
  • Administrators Face New Challenges - School administrators are accountable for the academic performance of their schools. In addition, they are also responsible for the school building maintenance and related environmental health. This includes addressing issues related to poor indoor air quality.

Causes Of Poor Air Quality In Schools


  • Poor Ventilation & HVAC Systems - Inadequate ventilation results in high levels of harmful airborne particulates and carbon dioxide levels. It also leads to mold and bacteria growth. Lastly, if HVAC systems aren’t cleaned regularly, they can blow particulate matter like dirt and other harmful build-up into classrooms.
  • Indoor Air Pollutants – With so many kids carrying their germs around schools, bacteria is regularly being spread around classrooms. Consider the additional chemicals and off-gasing from cleaning products and the air is almost certainly unhealthy.
  • Aging Buildings – Many schools have been running for decades, with very few updates. As a result, many schools have problems with leaks, water damage and excessive moisture – which lead to dust, mold and other airborne allergens that contribute to poor indoor air quality.
  • Schools Located Near Sources of Pollution – Schools that are located in busy cities or near highways face a barrage of fumes from exhaust and gases like carbon monoxide. Those that are near industrial plants face similar outdoor air quality challenges. To help with this the EPA enacted the Clean Air Act. As part of this they require major sources of pollutants to obtain an operating permit called a Title V Permit.
  • Learn more about the causes of poor air quality and 7 ways to improve your indoor air quality.

Ways To Fix Poor Air Quality In Schools

  • Plug The Holes – Find any leaks or areas of erosion where pollution is entering the building and fix them properly, providing a long-term solution. This will prevent further seepage of harmful air pollutants and contaminants. In some cases UV-C lights are used in the HVAC air ducts to prevent mold growth from standing water.
  • Improve Ventilation – By keeping airflow moving throughout the building, schools can prevent harmful air from stagnating and being breathed into children’s lungs. Make sure HVAC systems are operated and updated regularly and if they’re not, teachers can open windows for further fresh air. This is critical in managing the levels of carbon dioxide and any potential risks from carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone and many other indoor air pollutants. For older schools without an HVAC system it is important for fresh air to be able to come in from the outside. On a nice day this is simple but presents other challenges in winter.


Summary

As we have shown, poor air quality affects schools in many ways. In simple terms, indoor air pollution makes it more difficult for students to learn, teachers to teach and administrators to maintain the school buildings for the health and well-being for all.

The focus to solve most school indoor air quality issues is a matter of providing sufficient ventilation and air cleaning. This combination will ensure dangerous gases do not build up and airborne particulates are removed.


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