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Prioritizing Indoor Air Quality in Schools

We implemented seatbelts nationwide.

Shouldn’t the safety of indoor air in schools for our children and teachers be just as important?

As parents, we want the best for our kids and go to great lengths to make sure their living and playing spaces are safe from physical dangers. Despite our protective vigilance, there is a ubiquitous exposure that we neglect to consistently examine and manage – indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools.

Most children spend 12% of their total waking time in classrooms, or even more if they attend social activities at school, yet many are being exposed to harmful levels of indoor air contaminants. These contaminants can affect their health and ability to learn not only during childhood, but for the rest of their lives.

Why Children Are Especially Vulnerable to Poor Indoor Air Quality:

A Doctor’s Perspective

As children grow, their cells are dividing at much higher rates than those of adults. Absorption of airborne contaminants during growth phases can alter basic chemical reactions within individual cells. As a result cells die, are impaired, or have dysregulated functioning. These disruptions can manifest immediately in acute illnesses such as asthma, or much later in life as chronic conditions of the respiratory, immunological, reproductive, central nervous, and digestive systems.

In addition to being more sensitive to airborne pollutants, children also have greater exposure because they both inhale a larger volume of air per unit weight, and draw this air into deeper regions of their lungs than adults. Given these factors, it is not so surprising that air pollution is correlated with children’s mortality rates. What is surprising is that environmental policies limiting airborne contaminants largely ignore pediatric physiology because they are based on studies of adult humans and animals. Children are not miniature grownups! Exposure to poor IAQ during developmental stages and changing growth patterns can result in lasting health and cognitive damage.

Stages of Respiratory System Development and Examples of Associated Disease Vulnerabilities

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What Can School Districts Do to Protect Children and Adults from Poor Indoor Air Quality?

Until just recently, there were no standards for IAQ to support human health, with most of the attention focused on outdoor air and energy conservation. COVID has changed this trajectory, with industry standards and regulatory organizations such as ASHRAE, WHO and USGCB now working on IAQ standards that focus on health. There is now long overdue interest from both the public and government on improving indoor air quality for occupants - especially the most vulnerable. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Rescue Plan and other funding sources made billions of dollars available for school HVAC upgrades, yet as of today over 60% of schools have not improved their ventilation systems.

Why Are Stakeholders For Schools Not Investing In IAQ To Date?

  • School building managers are already overworked

  • The connection between health and IAQ is not clear enough to motivate people to act

  • Available funds are going to non-IAQ expense

  • Fear of finding significant building problems that then have to be addressed

Where should we begin?....

Steps to Initiate an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Solution Schools K-12

The first step to improving indoor air quality is to understand the current conditions with a baseline IAQ assessment. To do this, stakeholders need to select an IAQ measurement system that evaluates the indoor environment comprehensively. Holistic monitoring ideally includes assessing both indoor and outdoor air quality to determine the health impact of constituents introduced through ventilation and system upgrades which are part of remediation measures.

After optimizing current IAQ, ongoing monitoring is necessary to maintain a positive health impact. Changing conditions - both predictable and unpredictable - impact IAQ throughout the year. Seasons, occupant use patterns, extreme weather events such as wildfires, and more alter IAQ. A real-time analysis of air quality is essential for efficient responses and proactive steps to prevent incidences of poor IAQ.

What are Some of the Key Criteria for Selection of the Ideal IAQ Solution for Schools?

To make the most of IAQ technology to support student and staff health, look for solutions with:

  • Initial IAQ assessment and Customer Support

  • Real time Monitoring using best- in -class sensors

  • Analytical Technology Centered on Health

  • IAQ dashboard for visibility of current conditions, data analysis and real-time response to remediation steps

In summary, look for a health-based, real-time and comprehensive system that will guide IAQ management to protect occupants even when conditions change.

Building4Health: Assessing IAQ through the Lens of Health

Building4Health meets all the criteria for success outlined above, and more. Our comprehensive IAQ system and patented technology, B4H Vital Signs™ is centered on occupant health and is based on more than 20 years of medical and scientific research.

It is uniquely designed to address the needs of schools, healthcare facilities, senior living communities and other commercial buildings and can also help your school achieve LEEDv5 credits for higher rating awards.


Note: This article was adapted from the original article published in Engineered Systems, October 9, 2023 by Dr, Stephanie Taylor, MD, M. Arch, CIC.

Research Sources:

James Gauderman, W., Edward Avol, Frank Gilliland, Hita Vora, Duncan Thomas, Kiros Berhane, Rob Mc Connell, et al. n.d. “The Effect of Air Pollution on Lung Development from 10 to 18 Years of Age.”

Sadrizadeh, Sasan, Runming Yao, Feng Yuan, Hazim Awbi, William Bahnfleth, Yang Bi, Guangyu Cao, et al. 2022. “Indoor Air Quality and Health in Schools: A Critical Review for Developing the Roadmap for the Future School Environment.” Journal of Building Engineering 57 (October): 104908.


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