Indoor air quality in schools is a serious issue

A deadly airborne virus kept children home from school for over a year. As late as September 2021,18 months since the global COVID pandemic began, there were still 77 million students around the globe staying home for their health and safety (1).

Now, children are back in schools. Kids, teachers, and school personnel have returned to the classroom, where, depending on each child’s grade and country, each year they’ll spend an average of between 470 and 1,167 hours in school buildings (2). For teachers and school administration, that means more than just developing curriculum. It also means making sure their schools provide a safe, healthy environment free from airborne pollutants including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

To be successful, students must have access to clean, healthy air to breathe through every school day.

Indoor air quality can have a tremendous impact on a student’s ability to thrive in the classroom. To be successful, students must have access to clean, healthy air to breathe through every school day. And not only can poor indoor air quality cause illnesses that keep them home from school, recent findings have also shown that it may directly reduce their ability to learn.

Indoor air quality and student health and performance

Clean air is crucial for student health and academic success.

Children are particularly vulnerable to harmful and irritating air contaminants like viruses, bacteria, asthma triggers, allergens, and chemicals. Their lung development is directly affected by air pollution. Exposure to pollutants, especially PM2.5 and ultrafine particles, during childhood development has been linked to decreased respiratory function later in life, while long-term reductions in pollution can improve respiratory health (3).

PM2.5, particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns in diameter or less, and even smaller, deadlier ultrafine particles are both found in wildfire smoke, vehicle emissions, and industrial emissions.

Increasing reports of asthma among school age children have been directly linked to elevated air pollution exposure.

Increasing reports of asthma among school age children have been directly linked to elevated air pollution exposure. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), respiratory illnesses are the most common cause of absenteeism, with asthma-related illnesses accounting for more than 14 million missed school days in 2013 (4).

Studies have also associated poor indoor air quality with a decrease in students’ ability to perform specific mental tasks requiring concentration, calculation, and memory (5). There is also mounting evidence that poor indoor air quality can cause verbal, perceptual, motor, and intellectual disabilities in children (6, 7). It can also cause hearing impairment, irritability, and developmental delays (8, 9, 10).

Pollution comes from a variety of sources

There are several sources of air pollution inside schools. In newer schools, the trend toward tightly sealed buildings with a lack of natural ventilation is one factor. The use of synthetic building materials and furniture that off-gas chemicals, such as formaldehyde, is also a problem.

Issues in older schools range from lead, asbestos, and radon contamination, to mold caused by leaky roofs and dust from crumbling walls. In classrooms both old and new, a lack of funding has many schools turning off their HVAC systems or failing to properly maintain them.

Studies have shown that it is common for indoor pollution levels in classrooms to be two to five times higher than outside.

Meanwhile, outdoor pollutants such as vehicle exhaust, pesticides, and factory emissions can make their way inside, making what is already a polluted environment even worse. Studies have shown that it is common for indoor pollution levels in classrooms to be two to five times higher than outside (11).

Furthermore, far too many schools find themselves close to major roads, rail yards, and other sources that harm air quality. These local sources play a major part of a child’s air pollution exposure.

Take action for cleaner air

Parents can take action to make sure their children are breathing clean, healthy air in every classroom and avoid exposure to viruses and bacteria.

A key component to reducing air pollution is knowing what’s in your air and when it’s dirty. Low-cost air quality monitors can be deployed in and around a facility, then paired to provide a comprehensive view of air quality. Indoor air quality monitoring in classrooms can also be essential for detecting carbon dioxide, a legal requirement in many school districts.

When there has been a pandemic outbreak and masking is optional or required, students and faculty can also manage their personal risk with face masks.

For children studying at home or teachers working at their desks, there are personal air purifiers that clean the air in your breathing zone.

Here are some additional questions parents should be asking the administration at their children’s schools:

  • Has the school installed high-efficiency air filtration technology that exceeds the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value standards, surpassing less effective MERV 13?
  • Is the school inspecting and maintaining their HVAC systems regularly?
  • Are there routine inspections for moisture and mold? Have they established prevention and remediation plans?
  • Is the maintenance staff cleaning and removing dust with a damp cloth and vacuuming using high-efficiency (HEPA) filters daily?
  • Is the school choosing safe cleaning products, building materials and furniture that do not release harmful chemicals?
  • Is the district conducting regular building inspections and developing management plans for pollution sources?

Schools can comprehensively address air quality safety concerns by becoming certified Clean Air Schools. Faculty and visitors will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that school facilities have prioritized everyone’s health and safety. IQAir’s Air Quality Experts will review every aspect of the school’s air quality infrastructure and provide a customized clean air solution for the facility.

The takeaway

Administrators, teachers, and parents can play a decisive role in improving indoor air quality in schools.

By taking a proactive role in addressing air quality risks in the school through air quality monitoring and room air purification, schools can become havens for focused study and effective learning. In other words, good air quality makes better students.

The number one air cleaning solution for your home.

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