November 24, 2021

NIOSH Provides Recommendations to Improve IEQ in an Elementary School

A health hazard evaluation (HHE) report published in October by NIOSH outlines the agency’s recommendations to address indoor environmental quality (IEQ) complaints and possible health effects among employees of a public elementary school. NIOSH personnel visited the school in September in response to employees’ concerns that workplace exposures to mold or other sources of poor IEQ in the school might be causing them to experience higher-than-average levels of health problems, including respiratory illnesses, headaches, and reproductive issues. While NIOSH’s investigation found that employees at the school experienced certain health symptoms at greater rates than comparable working populations, agency staff identified no mold growth or other obvious source of poor IEQ. The HHE report recommends measures to improve overall IEQ.

School employees complained of frequent, work-related runny noses and sinus congestion. Compared with previous NIOSH health hazard evaluations, agency investigators found that the percentage of school employees reporting these symptoms was similar to the percentage of employees working in buildings with known IEQ problems and elevated compared to employees in buildings not known to have IEQ issues. While the NIOSH team could not link these symptoms to any specific workplace exposure, the report states that poor ventilation could be a factor. Employees also experienced migraines and headaches and expressed concerns about reproductive medical conditions. However, NIOSH did not find evidence that these issues were related to work, and the occurrence of reproductive problems was not elevated compared to general or comparable populations.

NIOSH determined that the school’s ventilation system was in poor condition, with unit ventilators approaching the ends of their service lives, high carbon dioxide levels measured in classrooms, and areas of the school not originally designed for prolonged occupancy—and lacking adequate ventilation—being used as classrooms. The agency’s recommended actions include renovating or replacing the ventilation system, starting an IEQ management program, improving employee communication, and creating a pest management plan, as the NIOSH team noticed several signs of rodent infestation during their visit.

For more information, refer to the complete HHE report (PDF).