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:
- Eye irritation
- 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:
- Shortness of breath
- Sinus congestion
- and irritation of the eye, nose, throat and skin
Symptoms 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 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.