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Don't Miss the Bell: Monitor Indoor Air Quality in Schools
The novel pandemic has drawn great public attention to the indoor environment. Even before Covid-19, many children were ...
The novel pandemic has drawn great public attention to the indoor environment. Even before Covid-19, many children were present in a limited space over several hours in schools and kindergarten. We were aware that poor indoor air quality could negatively impact student health, attendance, and academic performance.
According to UNICEF,
“Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked with pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children’s health.”
What is the hidden agenda behind these?
The pollution of the indoor air affects the learning and performance of students in schools. These could have both immediate and lifelong consequences. The typical school has approximately four times as many occupants as office buildings for the same amount of floor space. Also, children are more vulnerable to many pollutants than adults; they breathe almost twice as quickly as adults and take in more air relative to their body weight.¹ Plus, their respiratory systems are more permeable, making them more vulnerable while their tissues and organs are actively growing, which means that they are at particular risk from IAQ-related problems. ASHRAE has recommended that indoor CO2 concentrations be maintained below 1,000 ppm in schools. However, studies show that levels in classrooms mostly exceed this level.
Although many school environments typically lack typical indoor sources such as smoking and cooking, schools and kindergartens are still not in the safe zone. Compared with other indoor spaces, the high density of furniture (wooden chairs, desks, etc.), the use of goods for activities (glues, paints, markers, etc.), and the regular cleaning of the buildings may impact indoor air quality.
Covid-19 and Schools
Scientific studies confirm aerosols as one of the transmission routes of SARS-CoV-2 so that the possibility of airborne transmission increases in indoor environments with high occupancies, such as classrooms. As a result, international protocols and guidelines have established a requirement for educational buildings to over-ventilate with a fresh outdoor air supply. In a report in June, the US Government Accountability Office said that to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, more than 41 percent of school districts need to update or replace their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in at least half their schools.
In a recent interview, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona confirmed that he has discussed with both Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra "how we can lock arms" and encourage health experts to "tell us a good strategy to make sure that air quality is there." Also, researchers from the CDC have found that Covid was 35 percent lower in schools with improved ventilation.
The State of California has created a 5 step action plan to improve indoor air quality in schools to prevent the spreading of SARS-CoV-2:
1- Periodically test and adjust HVAC equipment to ensure the required ventilation is provided.
2- Ensure that building control systems and thermostats are programmed to operate ventilation fans one hour before school starts and continuously during the school day.
3- Use filters with a minimum efficiency rating value, or MERV, of 13 or greater to remove small particles from the air.
4- Install sensors in classrooms to continuously monitor CO2 levels and detect potential ventilation problems.
5- If needed, supplement filtration with portable air cleaners.
Some Facts About Effect of Indoor Air Quality on Student Performance
- According to the EPA, "Good indoor air quality contributes to a favorable environment for students, the performance of teachers and staff and a sense of comfort, health, and well-being. These elements combine to assist a school in its core mission — educating children."
- In a study of 100 US elementary classrooms, there was a 2.9% and 2.7% increase in math and reading scores, respectively, for each liter per second per person increase in ventilation rates.
- An average increase of 100 ppm CO2 in the classroom was associated with a reduced annual attendance roughly equivalent to one and a half days of school for every student.
- Due to high levels that have been linked to poorer mental concentration and more sick days, Taiwan, Norway, and Portugal have laws that limit indoor school CO2 levels to 1000 ppm.
Time to act
Because school attendance is required, school facility managers should be obligated to provide a healthy environment for students also, teachers, and staff. And parents have also become a party when it is time to act for indoor air quality in schools. Parents are now seeking schools that take active steps for providing healthy indoor air for children before they decide on enrollment.
For these reasons, it is critical to carefully discover the relationship between air quality in schools and children's health. Several studies indicate that schools typically have IAQ problems due to insufficient ventilation and the lack of awareness and capacity to deal with air quality problems.
The analysis of children's exposure is much more complicated than monitoring and characterizing indoor environments and air quality awareness. It is crucial to know how your building systems are currently performing as a first step. Indoor air quality monitoring in schools can include thermal comfort data (e.g., temperature, relative humidity), ventilation, particulate matter (PM), carbon dioxide (CO2), formaldehyde, dust and air allergens, molds and bacteria, and more. Monitoring these various IAQ measurements will indicate if strategic changes are required - improved ventilation, better filtering, modifying occupant density levels and activities, etc.
Just recently, Kids First Group's Redwood Montessori Nursery in Dubai started using Sensgreen IAQ monitoring solutions to keep the air quality under control in the nursery, receive instant notifications in case of critical readings, and take actions based on data to maintain clean air inside the nursery, while nurturing a productive environment for children’s development.
You can read the full story of Kids First Group's Redwood Montessori Nursery on Sensgreen Blog by clicking the image below.
IAQ monitoring in schools help individuals, parents, children, communities, and even governments become more aware of how air pollution may impact them and respond to present conditions to minimize exposure. These solutions will not solve the problem independently, but they are necessary and essential as a first step. The more we learn about air pollution, the more we will protect children from its harmful impacts.
If you'd like to learn more about the IAQ parameters, you can download our e-book by clicking the below image.