Updated: Nov 13, 2021
Air quality in schools has always been an issue. Ask any parent. Children with asthma, allergies, head colds that get passed around, the list goes on and on. School administrators budget what they can to help, and maintenance departments try to keep up with replacing filters.
Enter the pandemic.
Now, schools are faced with much more profound needs when it comes to air quality. Add to that, natural disasters and any school can feel overwhelmed. But how do you know if your school is failing when it comes to air quality?
Some schools have fallen into what is referred to as a “IAQ Emergency”. This is “when limited time is available to avert serious health problems or property damage. Examples include: toxic materials spills, symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, widespread breathing problems or chest tightness, Legionnaires’ Disease or TB, flooded or water damaged carpeting/floors.”
When to Suspect a School has a IAQ Emergency:
Frequent shutdowns and delayed school re-openings
The roof leaks and the building smells damp or has been flooded
The building is newly renovated and hasn’t aired out
The building is fully or mostly carpeted
Your children frequently come home from school with odd smells on their clothing.
Your children have health/learning problems only in the building and not during vacation, or in other settings
Building maintenance and repair are always under-budgeted
Black mold can be seen on hard or soft surfaces
All of this can result in what was coined in the 1970s as “Sick Building Syndrome”, when a substantial proportion of building occupants report health problems associated with occupancy. It is usually attributed to poor design, inadequate ventilation, or toxic materials.
What Can You Do if Your Child’s School has an IAQ Emergency?
The logical place to start is with the Facility Director, Head Custodian or Building Principal. Unfortunately, they are probably busy with COVID standards and budget meetings trying to survive the pandemic.
The best way may be by talking informally with a school staff member. He or she may also know if any other parent or staff member has expressed similar concerns. Then consider teaming up to find out the status of the school campus.
Remember, when asking questions whether via email, phone, or in-person, don’t be rude or aggressive. Stress that solving IAQ problems will help everyone. It should be a “win-win” issue. Find out if the school has passed or failed an air quality inspection. What does the school administration plan to do about viruses and nature disasters impacting the air quality?
What Can You Do to Help?
Unfortunately, individuals are rarely successful in addressing school IAQ. Consider getting other parents and/or school personnel interested. Ask the local parent association (PTO, PTA, etc.) if it would advocate a program to fix your school’s IAQ. If it isn’t interested, form your own group. Then all come together and write a letter to the building principal asking the school to follow up by setting up an IAQ committee which could include parents (of course, you should offer to be on the committee!).
An even easier response is to point the school administrators and board members toward a company that does all the work for them. Most states have or are getting state grants and aid money to pay for professional services like this. It would be another “win-win”.
What would Professionals do?
Bringing in a professional team that not only knows the ins and outs of HVAC and air purification systems but who also are educated on air flow patterns and the most recent studies on COVID is a must.
Doing an on-site review, their goal is to ensure the operations, facilities, and maintenance teams can easily monitor and maintain system improvements, delivering higher indoor air quality and occupant safety. The review would then be forwarded to the school board and recommendations would be given.
Their recommendations should include:
Air movement patterns within the breathing zone
Preferred mechanical systems
Proactive plan for maintenance and service
Ways to conduct air monitoring
How to fund the next steps
LifeWingsPP specializes in studying school campuses and providing knowledgeable assessments to aid school boards in reaching the highest level of protection for their students and staff. It defeats the invisible enemy and creates free breathing zones in buildings, reducing anxiety and allowing teachers to teach without fear.