ST. PAUL, Minn. Here are the facts: More than half of the nation’s schools have environmental deficiencies that adversely affect indoor air quality. Poor indoor air quality causes illness and can greatly diminish learning potential. In the 1980s, the number of children with asthma increased 60 percent. Asthma is the number one cause of absenteeism in schools.
While these statistics are alarming, few schools in the country are adequately addressing the problem of indoor air quality (IAQ). “We cram many more students into a classroom than we do adults in offices, and we expect them to learn huge amounts of information every day,” said John B. Lyons, author of Do School Facilities Really Impact a Child’s Education. “Adults working in these types of environments would probably sue their employer, but kids don’t recognize signs of bad indoor air quality and are really dependent on their teachers and school administrators to take action. Compounding the problem is that these issues are so complex, that school districts often don’t have the expertise internally to really make all the right decisions about improving their facilities.”
For years, studies have reported that poor IAQ can cause illnesses, forcing some kids to miss school. According to the American Lung Association more than ten million school days are missed each year due to asthma alone. (Now, data suggests that poor IAQ can reduce a person’s ability to perform specific mental tasks requiring concentration, calculation, or memory.
How has this happened and how bad is the problem? And what is being done to protect our children and to provide a safe learning environment?
SchoolFacilities.com, a portal dedicated to school facilities management, says the average school in America is 42 years old, a time when most buildings start deteriorating rapidly. In addition to their age, these buildings contain mold and mildew, lack fresh air, and contain aging mechanical systems that further challenge students with noise, glare and hot or cold temperatures.
“Poor IAQ causes drowsiness, inability to concentrate and lethargy,” said Matt Banes, president of SchoolFacilities.com. The result reduces attentiveness and compromises learning.” Today, according to the National Education Association (NEA) Research, the number of students in the country has dramatically increased from 25 million in 1950 to more than 47 million today. Classrooms are crowded and the building designs are outdated, with poor communications systems, limited technology and inadequate security.
“Parents don’t have the time nor the expertise to evaluate the physical conditions of their children’s schools, yet many of these facilities report unsatisfactory environmental conditions with increasing evidence that these problems have a negative impact on a child’s ability to learn,” said Banes.
One of the biggest health alerts in school today is asthma, a chronic disease that accounts for a half million hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths a year. Asthma affects 29 million people -- 4.8 million of them are children -- and the cost of treating the disease is a staggering $3.6 billion. Numerous studies find that indoor irritants, long suspected of influencing asthma rates in children, could be the key to asthma problems in children.
According to Alan Wozniak, president of Pure Air Control Services, a national indoor environmental consulting firm, keeping a regular maintenance schedule of the HVAC system can help reduce irritants that lead to IAQ problems.
“Our company has investigated thousands of buildings, including hundreds of schools for environmental inefficiencies such as mold, bacteria, endotoxins and dust mites, and we’ve found that in more than half the cases, there was an increased amount of microbial degradation due to neglected regular maintenance on routine housekeeping and HVAC systems,” Wozniak said.
In addition to neglecting a regular maintenance schedule, poor air circulation and temperature control can also greatly influence a facility’s IAQ.
“Some of the worst contributors to bad indoor air quality in our schools are poor ventilation and lack of effective humidity control,” said Gary Luepke, principal systems engineer for Trane, the nation’s largest provider of commercial and industrial air conditioning systems, energy management and building controls. “We’ve all been in a meeting in a room that was crowded, too warm and felt drowsy, that situation exists in many schools and classrooms daily but it’s not just uncomfortable, it’s causing illness.”
It is clear that the problem is attracting more attention. A two-year study entitled the Health, Environmental and Productivity Study is currently being conducted in Montgomery County, MD, under the direction of the HP Woods Research Institute.
“This study has already measured the interrelationship between air quality, acoustics and lighting, and has found how these levels are exceeding recommended and even safestandards,” said Lyons, “Most parents and school board members are simply not aware of the many pit falls that impact student learning. It’s a complicated and very serious issue and school districts really need to find the time and the resources to dedicate to fixing the problem sooner rather than later.”
PARENT CHECK LIST FOR SIGNS OF POOR INDOOR AIR QUALITY IN CHILD’S SCHOOL
1. Is your child coughing and sneezing more?
2. Is your child experiencing increased allergies?
3. Is your child experiencing increased upper respiratory problems?
4. Does your child feel better during the weekend away from school?
WHAT CAN SCHOOL OFFICIALS DO:
*Maintain an accurate school absenteeism and asthma log record.
*Maintain a regular maintenance schedule for the HVAC systems.
*Watch for stained ceiling tiles that may indicate roof leaks, which may mean mold.
*Watch for vents that may be blocked which decreases ventilation and affects indoor air quality.
*Space heaters under teachers’ desks could point to an ineffective comfort control system.
ADDITIONAL SOURCES - INDOOR AIR QUALITY IN SCHOOLS:
Alan Wozniak, IAQ expert and president of Pure Air Control Services
(800) 422-7873 x 802; firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Banes, president, SchoolFacilities.com
Matt@schoolfacilities.com; 714-279-7933 - office; (714) 402-7585 - cell
John B. Lyons, IAQ expert and author of 'Do School Facilities Really Impact a Child's Education?”
Gary Luepke, principal systems engineer for Trane,
(608) 787-3366; 651-271-9143 - cell; email@example.com
HELPFUL LINKS TO FIND OUT MORE INFORMATION ABOUT ASTHMA:
Data were provided by the EPA Indoor Environments Division, Office of Radiation and Indoor Air; by SchoolFacilities.com, a resource site and a gateway (portal) providing school facility personnel the opportunity to access a wide variety of information and resources unique to the needs of facilities; and by Pure Air Controls Services, an national indoor environmental consulting service.
For more information contact:
Ed Ziegler, Business Development Manager
(800) 422-7873, ext. 804