Much has been said about the need to improve indoor air quality in offices as people return to work, but what about schools and classrooms?
A recent study by the Center for Green Schools highlighted the urgent need to support school districts with the implementation of indoor air quality strategies to support mitigation of Covid, as well as future pandemics.
The study also warns that the widespread education of school system administrators and staff is needed to ensure greater awareness of the issue, not to mention the availability of federal relief funds.
Katherine Pruitt, national senior director of policy at the American Lung Association said Covid has “definitely generated a new wave of interest” in the importance of ventilation in schools.
She added the air children breathe in school is critical to their success in the classroom and their overall health, and that Indoor air quality also impacts student attendance, test scores and student and staff productivity.
Pruitt said recent announcements by the White House mean there is “more money on the table” for schools to improve indoor air quality, but it is often down to individual school districts as to how resources are spent.
“In most cases, our school decision makers are very sensitive to the desires of the local community and school facilities,” she told Forbes. “We’re hoping now that with Covid, indoor air quality is moving up the priority list, but there are a lot of competing demands.”
“It’s up to parents and advocates to keep the drumbeat going. The challenge will be sustainability. The most important thing to do now is to take the money to make upgrades to the physical plants and the ventilation. It’s a big investment up front, but it’s much needed.”
Sara Alsén, chief purpose officer at global air purification experts Blueair said many American schools have high levels of PM2.5 and PM10 pollution, which is primarily due to bad ventilation in classrooms and where the schools are located.
Exposure to PM2.5 particles has been found to be a major contributing factor to health effects such as asthma, stroke, heart and lung diseases.
Studies have also shown that poor indoor air quality can cognitive development, particularly in children as their bodies develop.
A survey last year by Global Action Plan and Blueair also found three in five US children are worried about the impact of air pollution on their health.
Research has also shown that schools in some areas of the US are more affected than others. Alsén said recent data shows that nearly 8,000 US public schools live within 500 metres of highways and truck roads. She added only a handful of states requires that public schools are not placed next to environmental hazards or very busy roads.
She said data from the Environmental Protection Agency has also shown that facilities and meeting dangerous particulate air pollution disproportionately impact low-income communities.
Alsén said the simplest and easiest way to improve ventilation in classrooms is just to open the windows, but that may not always be possible because of health and safety measures.
“It’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to indoor air quality,” she told Forbes, regarding classrooms that don’t have the option to let in outside air.
She added many schools also use unnecessary cleaning chemicals, which can impact the air pupils and staff breathe. In addition, few schools have indoor plants and green walls, which can help cool and improve the air indoors and many classrooms are crowded.
Alsén said recent federal announcements, like the White House action plan for “Building Better School Infrastructure” will help with improvements in schools, but she added that Congress needs to pass a permanent law that gives public schools proper access to resources to help improve indoor air quality.
She added there should also be stricter rules in place around where schools can be built and to prevent cars from idling near schools.
“Protecting children in the environment where they spend most time of their weekdays is a great investment for the future,” Alsen told Forbes.
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