Mind Your Indoor Air Quality

Mind Your Indoor Air Quality

Tips for improving indoor air quality in schools.

When it comes to excelling in the classroom, it turns out the air students are breathing is just as important as the lessons they are learning. Studies show poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can lessen the comfort of students as well as staff, affecting concentration, attendance and student performance. It can even lead to lower IQs. What's more, poor indoor air quality can lead to health problems, including fatigue, nausea and asthma.

About 20 percent of the U.S. population--roughly 55 million people--spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools. Improving indoor air quality in education facilities would be an important step toward improving public health. It can help reduce absenteeism; improve student and staff concentration, student productivity and performance; and decrease IAQ-related health risks.

Reduce chemical pollutants

Human exposure to air pollutants indoors may be two to five times, and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels. In schools, respiratory problems--such as asthma, allergies and bronchitis--have been associated with excessive use of pollutants such as formaldehyde, pesticides and cleaning compounds.

Reducing indoor contaminant levels with high-efficiency filters and germicidal lights, as well as using lower-emission cleaning supplies, can help reverse the adverse effects of pollutants in the air. These products help control three classes of air contaminants: particles (pollen, dust mites, dirt and pet dander); bioeaerosols (bacteria, viruses, mold spores and fungi); and odors/chemical vapors (chlorine, cleaning supplies and paint). Studies show that reducing the levels of these chemical irritants can significantly decrease absenteeism attributed to chronic respiratory illnesses.

Balance humidity levels

Fluctuations in temperature and humidity also can affect comfort and concentration levels of students and staff. Moderate changes in room temperature can influence a student's ability to concentrate on mental tasks such as multiplication, addition and sentence comprehension. High humidity levels may make the air feel sticky and provide a breeding ground for mold, mildew, dust mites and bacteria. What's more, high relative air humidity has been linked to the prevalence of asthma in schools.

Humidity control in schools has become more difficult. Today's building designs require more outdoor air ventilation, and that brings more moisture into the air. Keeping relative humidity levels between 50 and 60 percent will help improve comfort and reduce the spread of allergens.

Although high-efficiency filters can handle some of the load, a dehumidification system is necessary to help prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. Installing a high-efficiency HVAC system also can assist with indoor temperature control as part of a total IAQ solution.

Keep carbon dioxide levels in check

Increased indoor pollutant concentrations and lower ventilation rates may significantly reduce students' mental performance. Additionally, a lack of adequate fresh air in the classroom may make students drowsy and uncomfortable, further reducing their ability to perform.

But studies show that schools can reverse these unfavorable effects by reducing concentrations of carbon dioxide, combined with higher ventilation rates.

Demand-control ventilation systems, which help exchange and dilute contaminated indoor air with fresher, cleaner outdoor air, are an ideal choice for schools. By using sensors to introduce fresh air into a building based on carbon-dioxide levels, these systems help maintain appropriate IAQ levels.

In addition to helping improve IAQ levels, the systems can help lower energy usage. Demand-control ventilation systems bring in and condition outside air only when necessary.

Doing away with mold and dander

Asthma, a primary cause of school absenteeism, accounts for 10 million missed school days per year. Schools can decrease children¡¯s exposure to common asthma triggers, such as animal dander (from class pets or science projects), cockroaches, mold and dust mites (found in carpeting, upholstered furniture, pillows and stuffed toys) by adopting better IAQ controls. High-efficiency air filters and germicidal lights are ideal for lowering levels of dust, mold and dander in the air.

In addition, wash toys often, place pillows in dust-proof covers and vacuum classrooms regularly.

Mak is senior product manager, commercial splits, heating, IAQ, for Lennox Industries, based near Dallas and a subsidiary of Lennox International. She can be reached at [email protected].

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