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INDOOR AIR POLLUTION IN SCHOOLS

Most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage their health, but many do not know that indoor air pollution can also cause harm. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels. These levels of indoor air pollutants are of particular concern because it is estimated that most people spend about 90% of their time indoors. Comparative risk studies performed by EPA and its Science Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top four environmental risks to the public.

Indoor air problems can be subtle and do not always produce easily recognized impacts on health, well-being, or the physical plant. Children are especially susceptible to air pollution. For this and the reasons noted above, air quality in schools is of particular concern. Proper maintenance of indoor air is more than a "quality" issue; it includes safety and good management of our investment in the students, staff, and facilities.

Good indoor air quality contributes to a favorable learning environment for students, productivity for teachers and staff, and a sense of comfort, health, and well-being for school occupants. These combine to assist a school in its core mission -- educating children.Basic Questions & Answers:

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools

How big a problem is IAQ in schools?

Do IAQ problems seem to affect certain types of schools or certain locations of the country more than others?Why should schools take IAQ seriously?

What is EPA doing about IAQ in schools?

What are EPA's basic recommendations to schools?

  1. Obtain a copy of the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit (Kit)
  2. Obtain a copy of the IAQ Tools for Schools -- Ventilation Basics Video
  3. Ensure that an adequate amount of outdoor air is being supplied
  4. Test for radon
  5. Separate students and staff from construction and renovation areas
  6. Reduce use of products that require ventilation during use
  7. Reduce relative humidity indoors during hot and humid summers
How much will it cost to fix IAQ in schools?

The Kit provides practical, hands-on recommendations for schools which can beapplied using in-house staff. Following this guidance will enable schools to correct existing problems or prevent future problems from occurring. EPA is aware of the unique environment in which schools must function, including limited resources and multiple demands on those resources, therefore the majority of the activities have been designed to be either no cost or low cost.

Are there any potentially costly fixes for schools which may be needed to help ensure good IAQ?

Although the majority of the recommendations in the kit are either no cost or low cost, due to the limited maintenance budget for school buildings there are potentially two fixes which could be costly. The first is a leaky roof, which can cause water damage inside the building and may lead to microbial contamination (mold, fungi, bacteria). Secondly, if the ventilation system has been allowed to deteriorate, there may be significant costs involved in returning the system to its original design and/or building code intent.

Is the school I send my child to safe?

Every type of building has the potential for poor IAQ, and based upon limited anecdotal information we know that there are IAQ problems in schools. It is impossible to generalize. While some schools may have minor problems, others may have more significant ones. The Kit provides the school staff with practical steps they can take to correct current problems and prevent future problems. Awareness of the issues and proactive steps to assure good IAQ will go a long way towards providing a safe and productive learning environment for children.

Should smoking be allowed in schools?

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of passive smoking, therefore every effort should be made to keep the children's environment smoke free. Based on the Pro Kids Act, schools which receive federal funding may not allow smoking within the school. If the school chooses to operate a smoking lounge. It should be vented directly to the outdoors, and the room should be under negative pressure compared to surrounding spaces. The room should be located such that children never need to enter the space. If smoking areas are located outside, they should be positioned away from the doors and outdoor air intakes.

What types of schools has EPA studied?

Investigations of radon and limited measurements of IAQ in schools have been conducted in buildings for students in grades K through 12. The schools are from a variety of regions across the country and consist of a wide mixture of architectural styles.

Are there statistical data available regarding IAQ in schools?

No, not from EPA. However, the GAO report (see the first question) contains the most significant statistical data available at this time. A recent Congressional Office of Technology Assistance report, along with other sources, provides anecdotal information which strongly indicates that some schools need to pay more attention to IAQ. Deferred maintenance, which frequently occurs when schools have money problems, is often the culprit responsible for poor IAQ.

Will fixing the radon problem in a school automatically fix any IAQ problems?

No. Although radon problems in schools are often remedied by increasing the ventilation, this will not necessarily remedy an IAQ problem. Some indoor pollutant sources are too strong for ventilation increases to ensure good IAQ. Increasing the ventilation in areas with high humidity or elevated outdoor air pollutants may in fact cause a decrement in IAQ.

Does carpet cause IAQ problems in schools?

Carpet use in schools provides a decrease in noise, falls, and injuries. IAQ problems can be encountered with carpet and many other materials used indoors if the school has any type of water problem, such as a leaky roof. If carpet remains damp, it can become a primary site for microbial growth which frequently results in adverse health effects. Carpet and other furnishings that become significantly water damaged should be removed and either steam cleaned and thoroughly dried before reinstallation, or it should be discarded.

Will specialized training or tools be required to complete the recommended activities in the Kit?

Nearly all of the activities can be successfully completed without any specialized training or tools. One of the activities, the measurement of the amount of outdoor air being supplied to indoors, requires an airflow measurement device such as a flowhood or pitot tube. The Kit provides a basic information on the costs and sources of this equipment, and some cost-saving ideas such as equipment sharing.

Do schools have to follow this guidance?

The guidance is voluntary, and can be followed, modified, or not followed, depending on the school's needs and desires. Any information gathered as a result of using this Kit is for the benefit and use of the local school or school district. EPA does not require retention or submission of any information gathered, and EPA has no regulatory or enforcement authority regarding general indoor air quality in schools.

Since the guidance is voluntary, why should schools use some of their limited resources to apply the guidance?

There are many differing yet important reasons why schools will apply this guidance. In fact, some schools have already been successfully applying this guidance from its earlier draft phases. The range of reasons include the many health, safety, and economic effects as noted in the previous question, Why should schools take IAQ seriously?

How can I get a IAQ Tools for Schools Kit and Video?


Written by: The National PTA


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