The Importance of Air Quality in Schools
Posted in Air Quality, on July 22, 2018
School is out for the summer - most facilities lie dormant for the two hottest months of summer, undergoing needing repairs and upgrades. But is air quality in schools on your board’s radar? Awareness of indoor air quality in schools, businesses and homes is growing across the world as the air we breathe is closely looked at for its effect on our health, wellness, and productivity.
If you or anyone in your family is attending school (whatever the grade or level!), paying attention to the air quality in schools can have a big effect on how well you or your children are doing. There are three major areas that we look at when assessing air quality in schools: health, productivity and success, and the bigger picture - things that bad air quality may be caused by. While the pencils and graph paper may be packed away for the summer, air quality issues in schools don’t take a break, and being aware and prepared for the next school year starts now.
What is Indoor Air Quality?
To begin with, we’ll briefly cover what indoor air quality is and what is affecting it in schools. While most people are aware of how outdoor pollution (such as smog warning days or environmental causes, like factory smoke) can affect their health, many people aren’t aware that indoor air quality has as big of an impact on their wellness. After all, we spend close to 90% of our time indoors (depending on the season of course!), and indoor pollution levels can be 2-5 times higher than outdoor levels.
Good indoor air quality management in schools means that:
- Airborne pollutants are controlled or minimized
- Adequate ventilation is employed
- Temperature and humidity are controlled and managed.
A school environment has many different factors that may be contributing to poor indoor air quality. They could be:
- Location - is the school next to a highway or industrial area?
- Population - more students means a larger building and more maintenance
- Age - older schools may rate better on things like ventilation, but be constructed with more harmful materials, such as asbestos.
When considering how air quality in schools affects you or your family, the biggest and most obvious place that it has detrimental consequences is your health. In the last decade, the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA has ranked indoor air pollution one of the five biggest environmental risks to public health, making it a serious concern parents, administrators, and students should not overlook.
Poor air quality in schools can lead to problems such as :
- Respiratory tract irritation
- More frequent colds and flus
- Increased asthma attacks
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- In rare cases, Legionnaire’s disease or carbon monoxide poisoning have life threatening effects.
When poor indoor air quality affects your health like this, it leads to:
- Increased sick days for administrators, teachers, and parents
- Increased absenteeism for students and learners
- A greater potential for school closures or extended maintenance needs
- Negative publicity
- Liability problems
- Lower productivity and attention - but more on that in the next section
Because the effects of indoor air quality are subtle, and there may be no warning signs that you associate with ‘bad air’ - such as a foul smell. Many of the symptoms of poor air quality mimic those of the common cold or flu and can confuse parents, students, and doctors.
Some of these common symptoms include:
Productivity and Success
The effects of feeling poorly all the time on you or your child’s learning successes are easily discerned: if we feel sick, we’re told to stay home. When we stay home, we miss school or work, therefore missing important lessons, meetings, and tests, and it often takes longer to catch up when we return to our daily activities. But did you know what poor air quality in schools has been linked to lower levels of success and productivity?
Since the beginning of the 2000s, studies across the world have looked at the effect that poor indoor air quality has on our learning and working environments, and their findings have universally indicated that higher levels of indoor pollution are contributing to or directly causing lowered productivity.
It makes sense that fewer pollutants means cleaner, better oxygen, which our brains need to function - one study done in the USA by Harvard University and Syracruse University looked at the relationship between indoor air quality and productivity, and found that people working in their improved test environment performed around 60% better on cognitive tests than their colleagues working in a standard office environment. That’s a big jump in performance - once carbon monoxide levels, humidity, ventilation, and temperature were addressed (as well as the removal or strategic replacing of common air quality pollutants such as printers, photocopier, carpets and more), people were able to work better AND feel better.
The Bigger Picture
Poor indoor air quality in schools can cause bigger issues than poor learning outcomes and illness - it can be a sign that there are other, more serious, issues at play in a school. Increased heat, humidity and poor temperature and ventilation control has negative outcome for school safety as well.
An increase in these four factors is linked to mold growth and moisture damage in all sorts of buildings besides schools. Mold contamination can cause the same sort of symptoms as poor indoor air quality: eye, nose, and throat irritation, headache, fatigue, etc. A moldy environment is likely also a damp one, which can make for uncomfortable learning conditions, and even short term mold growth can lead to building and structural damage, furthering indoor air quality problems and adding to a poor learning environment.
What can you do?
If you have concerns about air quality in schools that you or your family attend, speak up! Talk to administrators, principals, trustees, and other local agents - an indoor air quality assessment can tell a lot about the environment you spend so much time in, and a company like SafeAir can make concrete, easy to implement suggestions for immediate and long term air quality improvement.