The Minnesota Department of Health cites the EPA when it says that nearly 55 million people, 20 percent of the U.S. population, spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools. An estimated 50 percent of the nation’s schools have problems linked to poor indoor air quality. That’s a huge issue, and impacts the lives of everyone who works or attends schools in our state.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the United States Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), and more all have a number of resources dedicated to indoor air quality management in schools.
In this post, we summarize and cite that information in a simple guide to why it’s important to have high indoor air quality in schools, what steps you can take, and how you can ensure that your students’ and staff’s indoor air is healthy in the 2017-2018 school year.
Why Indoor Air Quality is So Important in Schools
The EPA’s Student Health and Academic Performance Quick Reference Guide cites a number of scientific research articles with the following information:
Health, attendance, and academic performance can improve with increased maintenance.
Schools with better physical conditions show improved academic performance, while schools with fewer janitorial staff and higher maintenance backlogs show poorer academic performance.
Improved indoor air quality increases productivity and improves the performance of mental tasks, such as concentration and recall, in both adults and children.
A huge part of maintaining a school’s conditions is ensuring that its indoor air is clean and its quality is high.
According to the USEPA, poor indoor air quality has been shown to have increased negative health consequences, which can:
- Impact attendance and absenteeism of students
- Negatively affect performance
- Trigger asthma symptoms (the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness)
- Increase allergy symptoms
- Reduce teacher and staff performance
- Negatively impact community trust and create potential liability problems
They continue, “research links key environmental factors to health outcomes and students’ ability to perform. Improvements in school environmental quality can enhance academic performance, as well as teacher and staff productivity and retention.”
In addition, “the developing bodies of children might be more susceptible to environmental exposures than those of adults.” Since children consume a higher amount of environmental agents (air, food, water) in proportion to their body weight than adults do, air quality in schools is of particular concern. The agency adds that “proper maintenance of indoor air is more than a quality issue; it encompasses safety and stewardship of your investment in students, staff and facilities.”
For these reasons, indoor air quality is particularly important at educational facilities.
Prevent the spread of illness and increase the health of building inhabitants in your educational facility with specialized indoor air quality cleaning:
- trained professionals for large-scale duct cleaning and mold remediation
- HEPA vacuums specifically designed for large facilities
- cleaning processes dedicated to preventing the spread of illness
Keep reading for symptoms that students, faculty, and staff could experience if indoor air quality is not maintained properly.
Symptoms of Poor Indoor Air Quality
Indoor air problems can be subtle and do not always produce easily recognized impacts on health, well-being, or the physical plant. The effects of indoor air quality problems on school occupants could include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sinus congestion
- Irritation of the eye, nose, throat or skin
These symptoms are not necessarily due to air quality deficiencies. They could be caused by other factors such as poor lighting, stress, noise and more. Some people are also more sensitive to indoor air contaminants, including: people with asthma, allergies, or chemical sensitivities; people with respiratory diseases; and people with weaker immune systems.
The American Lung Association adds that if occupants notice health symptoms that improve when they leave the school building and return when they come back to the building, it’s possible that there’s an indoor air pollution problem that should be tested and addressed. The ALA includes a checklist on their site of potential causes, including:
- New indoor machinery or appliances
- New construction, carpeting, flooring, etc.
- A change in cleaning products
- Blocked vents or grills
- Poorly maintained ductwork
Indoor air environments are impacted by the Four P’s: People, Pollutants, Pathways, and Pressure.
According to OSHA, typical schools have approximately four times as many occupants as an office building with the same amount of floor space. Schools frequently have a large number of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning equipment, which places added strain on maintenance staff.
Keep reading for ways to mitigate the effects of these potential issues.
Air Cleaning & Other Strategies to Control Indoor Air Quality
According to the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), Minnesota laws (§123B.595 & 124E.03) require public schools have health and safety programs that comply with health, safety, and environmental regulations and best practices, including indoor air quality management.
Managing indoor air quality can include cleaning the air. The Minnesota Department of Health recommends that schools follow these and other strategic steps to control indoor air quality:
- Manage the source of any potential contaminants such as exhaust fumes, garbage, or cleaning chemicals to reduce their entrance into the school ductwork.
- Ensure proper maintenance of the school’s HVAC system to promote ventilation.
- Lower potential pollutants by increasing dilution of indoor air with outdoor air.
- Install and regularly replace filters (high efficiency, if possible).
- Air Cleaning & Ductwork Cleaning
Indoor air cleaning is the process of intentionally removing pollutants from indoor air, or filtering pollutants from the outdoor air as it enters a building.
Here are some best practices to follow related to indoor air cleaning at your Minnesota educational facility.
Next Steps: Ensure Your Students’ & Staff’s Air is Healthy
Air cleaning includes filtering the air throughout your facility using specialized equipment through your facility’s ductwork. It’s important to consult a professional when undertaking such an important maintenance task for your school. A professional-level, specialized air cleaner is the best choice when it comes to cleaning the air and the ductwork in your Minnesota educational facility.
The professional vendor will come in with unique vacuum equipment that has safety features on it, so that contaminants don’t get released in the building; instead they’ll only be cleaned out. They’ll be able to safely and efficiently clean out your ductwork and other areas of your system in a way that in-house team members may not be able to do.
Professional crews can even go into ductwork safely in order to clean it or identify and fix any problems or leaks that may be present. In many cases, your in-house people could go in there, too – but you wouldn’t want them to, for lack of relevant training and liability reasons.
These experienced technicians can spot differences in air pressure, or build-up on machinery parts. They can assess the air quality in a space, and tell you about the best ways to keep equipment in good shape, protect the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, and otherwise properly maintain your air handling system.
According to the EPA, a healthy learning environment at your school can reduce absenteeism, improve test scores and enhance student and staff productivity while reducing a host of health problems — including asthma and allergies — that increase absenteeism and reduce academic performance.
Air Cleaning is recommended as one of a few strategies for controlling indoor air quality in schools. Contact ENVIRO-Air for an Indoor Air Quality Test and consultation today to get a plan in place for your facility.