Indoor Air Quality In Schools

EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels. These levels of indoor air pollutants are of particular concern because most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.

The best practice of good indoor air quality (IAQ) management includes:

  • Control of airborne pollutants;
  • Introduction and distribution of adequate outdoor air; and
  • Maintenance of acceptable temperature and relative humidity.


In recent years, comparative risk studies performed by the 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 short and long term health problems for students and staff such as:

  • Coughing
  • Eye irritation
  • Headaches
  • Allergic reactions, and
  • in rarer cases, life-threatening conditions such as Legionnaire’s disease, or carbon monoxide poisoning.


Poor IAQ can also 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 allergies 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; and
  • Create liability problems.


Indoor air problems can be subtle and do not always produce easily recognised impacts on health, well-being, or the physical plant. Symptoms, resulting from poor indoor air quality may include;

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sinus congestion
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Eye, nose, throat and skin irritation


With that said, it’s important to recognise that these symptoms may not necessarily due to air quality deficiencies and may be attributable to other factors such as poor lighting, stress, noise. Due to varying sensitivities among school occupants, IAQ problems may affect a group of people or just one individual. Additionally, 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:

  • Persons with heart disease may be more adversely affected by exposure to carbon monoxide than healthy individuals.
  • Persons 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.

Good IAQ contributes to a favourable 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.

For more information on indoor air quality in the educational sector or you would like to speak with a consultant regarding any indoor environment concerns that you may have, please contact us here.

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