IAQ Tools for Schools
IAQ Reference Guide
Section 1 - Why IAQ Is Important to Your School
- Control of airborne pollutants;
- Introduction and distribution of adequate outdoor air; and
- Maintenance of acceptable temperature and relative humidity.
Good IAQ contributes to a favorable environment for students, performance of teachers and staff, and a sense of comfort, health, and well-being. These elements combine to assist a school in its core mission — educating children.Temperature and humidity cannot be overlooked because thermal comfort concerns underlie many complaints about "poor air quality." Furthermore, temperature and humidity are among the many factors that affect indoor contaminant levels.
Outdoor sources should also be considered since outdoor air enters school buildings through windows, doors, and ventilation systems. Thus, transportation and grounds maintenance activities become factors that affect indoor pollutant levels as well as outdoor air quality on school grounds.
Why Is IAQ Important?
In recent years, comparative risk studies performed by EPA and its Science Advisory Board (SAB) have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health. Good IAQ is an important component of a healthy indoor environment, and can help schools reach their primary goal of educating children.
Failure to prevent or respond promptly to IAQ problems can:
- Increase long- and short-term health problems for students and staff (such as cough, eye irritation, headache, allergic reactions, and, in rarer cases, life-threatening
conditions such as Legionnaire’s disease, or carbon monoxide poisoning).
- Aggravate asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Nearly 1 in 13 children of school-age has asthma, the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness. There is
substantial evidence that indoor environmental exposure to allergens, such as dust mites, pests, and molds, plays a role in triggering asthma symptoms. These allergens are common in
schools. There is also evidence that exposure to diesel exhaust from school buses and other vehicles exacerbates asthma and allergies. These problems can:
- Impact student attendance, comfort, and performance.
- Reduce teacher and staff performance.
- Accelerate the deterioration and reduce the efficiency of the school’s physical plant and equipment.
- Increase potential for school closings or relocation of occupants.
- Strain relationships among school administration, parents, and staff.
- Create negative publicity.
- Impact community trust.
- Create liability problems.
Indoor air problems can be subtle and do not always produce easily recognized impacts on health, well-being, or the physical plant. Symptoms, such as headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, coughing, sneezing, dizziness, nausea, and irritation of the eye, nose, throat and skin, are not necessarily due to air quality deficiencies, but may also be caused by other factors—poor lighting, stress, noise, and more. Due to varying sensitivities among school occupants, IAQ problems may affect a group of people or just one individual. In addition, IAQ problems may affect people in different ways.
Individuals that may be particularly susceptible to effects of indoor air contaminants include, but are not limited to, people with:
- Asthma, allergies, or chemical sensitivities;
- Respiratory diseases;
- Suppressed immune systems (due to radiation, chemotherapy, or disease); and
- Contact lenses.
Certain groups of people may be particularly vulnerable to exposures of certain pollutants or pollutant mixtures. For example:
- People with heart disease may be more adversely affected by exposure to carbon monoxide than healthy individuals.
- People exposed to significant levels of nitrogen dioxide are at higher risk for respiratory infections.
In addition, the developing bodies of children might be more susceptible to environmental exposures than those of adults. Children breathe more air, eat more food, and drink more liquid in proportion to their body weight than adults. Therefore, air quality in schools is of particular concern. Proper maintenance of indoor air is more than a "quality" issue; it encompasses safety and stewardship of your investment in students, staff, and facilities.
Unique Aspects of Schools
Unlike other buildings, managing schools involves the combined responsibility for public funds and child safety issues. These can instigate strong reactions from concerned parents and the general community. Many other aspects are unique to schools:
- Occupants are close together, with the typical school having approximately four times as many occupants as office buildings for the same amount of floor space.
- Budgets are tight, with maintenance often receiving the largest cut during budget reductions.
- The presence of a variety of pollutant sources, including art and science supplies, industrial and vocational arts, home economic classes, and gyms.
- A large number of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning equipment place an added strain on maintenance staff.
- Concentrated diesel exhaust exposure due to school buses. (Students, staff, and vehicles congregate at the same places at the same time of day, increasing exposure to vehicle emissions.) Long, daily school bus rides may contribute to elevated exposure to diesel exhaust for many students.
- As schools add space, the operation and maintenance of each addition are often different.
- Schools sometimes use rooms, portable classrooms, or buildings that were not originally designed to service the unique requirements of schools.
For more information, see www.epa.gov/iaq