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The Importance of Clean Air In Your Child’s School

Photo credit: RODNAE Productions

We all like to believe that our children are in good hands when we send them off to school. We want to know that their health, emotional well-being, and minds are valued and protected while they are in the school facilities provided to our communities.

However, the safety of children in school facilities is not always guaranteed or consistent. When it comes to health and safety resources, such as clean air, access is not equal across all schools, even those within the same district.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, access to these resources is critical to the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff. Many schools require equitable access to clean air and other facility upgrades, but resources are often sorely lacking to procure and maintain these necessary upgrades.

Here’s what you need to know about what should be done to increase access to clean air in schools.

What you may not know

The Century Foundation (TCF) conducted a “first-of-its-kind” study in April of 2020. The results of this study show that schools (grades K-12)  in the United States are underfunded by more than $150 billion per year.

In most school districts, funding for schools is usually dependent upon the amount of property taxes paid in the community. Therefore, people who live in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, who are also often part of minority groups, have less money available for the upkeep of the schools.

Why is indoor air quality at school important?

We have heard people ask, “What’s the big deal? We all went to school, and we are fine.”  When we think back on the air in school, we think of the smell of Pinesol cleaner in the restrooms, a mixture of sweat and bleach in the showers in the gym, and mystery meat cooking in the cafeteria. But think again.

It only takes one student getting a cold in class for everyone in that student’s classroom to get sick for the next two weeks as the infection is passed back and forth. Indeed, so much so that tissues and anti-bacterial wipes are mandatory products for many elementary students to bring for the first semester of classes. Furthermore, there have been very few classes that did not have at least one student (and usually more) that did not have asthma.  

Beyond individual student health, poor indoor air quality can cause additional symptoms and related consequences not necessarily tied to existing health conditions, such as:

●    Poor grades due to missed school days
●    Headaches
●    Dizziness
●    Inability to pay attention
●    Fatigue
●    Nausea
●    Irritation of the eyes, throat, and skin
●    Allergies
●    Shortness of breath

It’s also worth noting that pollution could be deadly if the pollution a child is being exposed to is from a toxic source. Nearby factories and plants, highways, and various businesses can affect the air quality your child is breathing. Facility employees may be wearing protection, but if the wind carries the air pollution toward your child’s class and the classroom has limited air ventilation or filtration, they are unable to protect themselves from this external source of toxic air.

Furthermore, if poor air quality is caused by lack of proper air circulation due to absent or inadequate air ventilation and filtration, carbon monoxide poisoning and heat-related sicknesses can also occur.
Photo credit: RODNAE Productions

Photo credit: edreypaul

What can I do?

Many school districts have already established clean air schools in order to address these indoor air quality problems in schools. This is accomplished by using air conditioning systems and filters in the classrooms. Many classes have HVAC split systems consisting of a condenser outside with either a furnace and coil or fan coil inside. They may also have a standard single unit, such as a window unit or PTAC (a unit built into the wall like you would normally see in a hotel).

The key to having a clean air school is having the right air conditioning system for the classroom or space that needs to be filtered and ventilated as well as keeping a clean, high-quality filter in the system. Not changing the filter when it is dirty reduces the life of the air conditioning unit as well as its ability to cool the area and clean the air. It's almost like the difference between using an air conditioner and a fan. An air conditioner will cool the air, but a fan will only move the air. A fan cannot clean the air. It feels cooler, but only because it moves the air across your warm skin, which may simply be moist with sweat.

What you may not know

The following is a very simple and general explanation of how air conditioners work. But this basic explanation is largely accurate for all systems.

An air conditioning system pulls hot and polluted air out of the room. The warm air inside your house is pulled in through a vent and blows over the cold evaporator coil. The compressor decreases the gas’ volume by squeezing the gas tightly between two solid objects. The refrigerant, now a heated vapor, reaches the condenser and is exposed to the outside air. The outside air absorbs the heat from the refrigerant, lowering the temperature of the refrigerant and changing the state from a gas back into a liquid. The heat from the refrigerant is removed to the outdoors, the cold refrigerant travels back indoors.

Taking action

Have an expert give you an inspection and a comprehensive assessment of your school facilities to find out the overall quality of the air you and your students are breathing. Determine if the air your students are breathing is affecting their performance. Furthermore, determine if your systems are operating at peak levels, including whether filters are working correctly and if they need to be replaced or upgraded.

There is funding available in most cases to help schools to get the resources they need to operate safely. This can include rebates available through programs offered to help schools upgrade to high-efficiency units, add stand-alone air purifiers, and many other perks to help children be healthy and bright.

Today is the day to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.