Most people assume that air pollution is prevalent only outdoors whereas indoor air pollution can be just as detrimental to health. In fact, studies have clearly shown that air pollution can be 2 to 5 times worse indoors than outdoors and can result in a myriad of health problems. Indoor air pollution is particularly of great concern for schools as children as well as teachers, staff spend a large chunk of their days inside where poor indoor quality not only affects their health but also hinders productivity. In addition, children are more susceptible to the negative effects of poor indoor air quality as they are still in a developing stage. In this article we delve deeper into what good indoor air quality is as well as discuss the importance of indoor air quality in schools.
What is indoor air quality?
Indoor air quality also known as IAQ generally refers to the air quality within a building and its surroundings.
According to EPA, good IAQ management includes:
Controlling airborne pollutants to a minimum level
Introduction and distribution of adequate outdoor air through ventilation
Controlled temperature and humidity
In addition, outdoor air pollution also affects indoor air pollution as it circulates inside the building.
Why is indoor air quality important for schools?
Many schools consist of old building structures, often not serviced or maintained properly. In addition, over time, outdated HVAC systems contribute to poor indoor air quality as it not only loses efficiency but also accumulates biofilms, germs, mold and dust. This poor air quality affects both the health of students, teachers and staff and also impairs the learning ability of children as well as reduces productivity. Good IAQ is an essential part of a healthy indoor environment and can greatly support schools in achieving their main goal of educating children.
What causes poor indoor air quality in schools?
Indoor air pollution in schools can result for various reasons such as:
- Inefficient HVAC systems providing poor air circulation
- Chemicals from pressed wood and other VOC materials
- High moisture, humidity and mold growth
- Outdoor pollution from adjacent parking lots or surrounding areas
How does it affect the children and other school staff?
Poor indoor air quality in schools can result in a plethora of short-term and long-term health problems in both children and other school staff including:
- Headaches, dizziness, tiredness
- Increased allergic reactions
- Asthma and other respiratory illnesses
- Risk of covid-19 spread and transmission and other airborne diseases
In some rare cases, indoor air pollution can result in fatal health conditions such as Legionnaire’s disease or carbon monoxide poisoning
A recent study revealed that 1 out of every 13 school going children suffers from asthma. Moreover, there has been overwhelming evidence that exposure to indoor air pollutants such as dust particles, molds can exacerbate asthma. These pollutants are present in large numbers in school premises. In addition, it has also been revealed that exhaust fumes from school buses and other vehicles also contribute to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. All of these negatively impact not only the health of building occupants but also performance of students and teachers alike.
Impacts of poor indoor air quality on children’s learning ability
Poor IAQ can increase health problems and lead to increased absenteeism. Studies have shown asthma is a leading cause of children missing school frequently.
Studies have also shown indoor air quality directly affects children’s learning ability and poor IAQ reduces it.
In addition, it can also deteriorate and reduce lifespan of school equipment and structure itself, resulting in chance of schools to be closed and creating a negative branding image of the school.
How do you know that your school has IAQ issues?
Indoor air pollution can be tricky to determine as over short-term it does not readily produce any observable impacts on health and environment. However, if you notice children or staff continuously having allergic reactions such as coughing, sneezing, showing signs of fatigue, lacking in concentration, conjunctivitis and so on, then the problem could be poor air quality. Since every child is different, indoor air quality is likely to have varying effects on individuals and one group of students may be more vulnerable than others due to various health conditions. Usually children suffering from asthma, respiratory illness, and a weak immune system are more prone to the effects of indoor air pollution as their symptoms are likely to be aggravated by air pollutants.
Also, since the children are at the development stage, they are more vulnerable to the effects of poor air quality than the adults. They are more susceptible because they inhale more pollutants per body weight than adults due to higher breathing rates which is why indoor air quality is of paramount importance in schools.
How to improve indoor air quality in schools?
Here are some of the easy and cost-effective ways you can improve air quality in schools:
Improving ventilation – Make sure the building has ventilation systems running throughout the school period and rooftop exhaust fans as well as air handling units do not have any obstructions to airflow. Keep windows and doors open when it is nice outside to let in the fresh air.
Have an efficient HVAC system – HVAC system is an essential component to ensure good air quality in schools. Make sure you regularly service and maintain the HVAC system by professionals to ensure it is operating properly. It will not only improve ventilation but also reduce your utility bills.
Invest in HVAC monitoring app– With HVAC monitoring app, you do not have to remember to schedule servicing and maintenance of your school’s HVAC system. You can get real-time updates, receive instant alerts and take preventive steps to ensure the system is running smoothly.
Prevent microbial and mold growth – One of the leading contributors to indoor air pollution is microbial and mold growth. You can invest in CO2, temperature, and humidity monitoring to ensure the levels are optimal to prevent microbial and mold growth. It will also enhance occupants’ comfort and improve performance of children in school.
Keep your classroom clean – To fight indoor air pollution, it is necessary to make sure your classrooms and other school spaces are cleaned regularly to prevent dust and other pollutants build up which deteriorate indoor air quality. Steer away from using chemicals that contribute to indoor air pollution. In addition, you should also make sure the building surroundings are cleaned regularly as outdoor pollutants can affect indoor air quality as well.
With these steps, you can ensure a healthy environment and improve indoor air quality in schools, thus helping children have a better health and learning environment. If you suspect your school has indoor air quality issues, connect with A-TECH Engineering Ltd. – a leading HVAC contractor based in Toronto for a free indoor air quality assessment today and find out how we can improve air quality of your school.