A Parent’s Concern
In an article published this past month by ABC News, Rachelle Chase-Miller, a mother from Portland, Oregon, spoke about her concerns over her son’s return to school last autumn. Chase-Miller’s son suffers from both cerebral palsy and asthma, and she worried that poor ventilation in schools would put him at an even greater risk for COVID-19.
Chase-Miller is only one of many parents who are concerned about their immunocompromised children being exposed to COVID-19 through schools with deteriorating infrastructures. According to studies conducted by EPA, indoor pollutants may be up to 100 times higher than outdoor levels. Studies have also shown that, if left unaddressed, poor IAQ in schools can lead to negative health effects for both staff and students. Some examples include coughing, eye irritation, headaches, increased asthma, and even carbon monoxide poisoning.
EPA uses three factors to define “good air quality.” These factors include the control of airborne pollutants, the introduction and distribution of adequate outdoor air, and the maintenance of acceptable temperature and humidity. The National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan released by the White House also discusses the need to address IAQ in schools. Furthermore, statistics from a Government Accountability Office report show that some 36,000 K-12 schools in the United States had deficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
EPA recently held a webinar that showcased how stakeholders and experts are tackling IAQ issues in schools. Katherine Walsh from Boston Public Schools spoke about how BPS spent much of 2021 updating the HVAC systems and installing air quality sensors in schools. Ken Martinez of the Integrated Bioscience and Built Environment Consortium (IBEC) also spoke about IAQ metrics and risk assessment strategies that industrial hygienists can utilize when addressing IAQ in schools.
EPA also has an IAQ action toolkit available for schools to reference. This toolkit includes reference guides, checklists, and fact sheets that have information about IAQ issues in schools, strategies to mitigate the risks, and more.
CDC, too, has issued guidance on IAQ-related issues in schools. The guidance highlights three main solutions including ventilation rates, HVAC filtration efficiency, and supplemental air cleaning.
Some states are also initiating action. To help Dekalb County, outside of Atlanta, address long-standing issues with poor school infrastructure and mold, the Georgia Department of Education hired an advisor to work with the school district on its Corrective Action Plan. This plan was created as a result of a 2020 assessment that showed that more than half of the schools in the district are in poor or very poor condition.
Furthermore, the state of Vermont made $13.5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan available to schools that wanted to update their HVAC systems and IAQ monitoring. As of April 2022, at least 200 schools have applied for this funding.
Finally, the American Rescue Plan has provided around $122 billion in funding to state education agencies in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico to update school infrastructure, while highlighting improving ventilation in schools as an area the funding could address.
Addressing IAQ in schools is a top priority for AIHA. One of the reference guides (PDF) in the EPA toolkit names AIHA as a resource for schools to learn more about both industrial hygienists and indoor air quality. Our members can also access webinars, courses, and publications related to the topic at AIHA University. The Synergist also held a free webinar about the challenges facing schools.
Are you interested in getting involved with AIHA’s efforts to address IAQ in schools? Please complete a short survey and we’ll be in touch with the next steps.