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School indoor air quality.

Indoor air quality is affected by emitence of various sources and air movement dynamics. Indoor air pollutants can be natural and anthropogenic materials. Indoor sources of these pollutants are small pools of water in the heating/ventilation/air/ conditioning system. Outdoor pollutants are also brought indoors via the ventilation system, the pollutants are believed to be contributing to the high number of students suffering from asthma. An effective air quality program begins with a "Principles of Conduct." The ventilation system is then evaluated for efficiency. Activities, such as carpet care, must be performed routinely and with appropriate equipment. The Environmental Protection Agency offers seven suggestions to improve indoor air quality. The "green school" design eliminated air pollutants. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study in an attempt to establish indoor air quality standards.


Air pollution has been an environmental concern for many years. Long streams of smoke can be seen emitting from factory smokestacks. Sometimes, the smoke can be seen coalescing into clouds. Occasionally, these clouds are pink in color. The clouds converge. When the clouds become oversaturated, rain falls to the earth. The vegetation that is watered by the precipitants shows signs of surface burning. The burning is caused by acid. Animals, including humans, eat the vegetation: illnesses occur. The air pollution produced in the factories invades the environment first through the water cycle. Secondly, the acid permeates ecosystems and food chains. This pollution is clearly visible. It is seen outdoors. Hence, it is termed outdoor air pollution. Conversely, indoor air pollution occurs indoors and is harder to detect visually.

Since indoor air pollution is generally invisible, most people have not concerned themselves with it. Only occasionally were odors detected. However, people are becoming ill by breathing air inside of buildings. Children are becoming sick in the schools that they attend. Some of the illnesses are being attributed to the air quality within the schools. The air quality in schools is becoming a primary concern. This report is to identify some of the indoor air pollutants in schools, their causes, and to offer some solutions to improve the indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools.


IAQ is affected by emitence from various sources and air movement dynamics. Indoor air pollutants can be natural and anthropogenic materials. Natural pollutants are pollens, spores, microorganisms, dust, and radon. Some indoor sources of these pollutants are small pools of water in the heating/ventilation/air-conditioning (HVAC) system and stacks of books and papers that have accumulated dust. Outdoor sources are landscape materials and airborne particles brought in by the wind from across town. Anthropogenic air pollutants are volatile compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), carbonyl compounds, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter. Some indoor sources of these pollutants are maintenance activities, furnishings, and commercial activities. Outside sources are automobiles, waste management, industrial processes, and fuel storage. These indoor pollutants are being circulated throughout buildings with the HVAC system. People are becoming ill. Since there are more people in closer spaces in schools than other buildings, more people are being effected by indoor air pollution in schools. Children, because of their size, may be more susceptible to the pollutants and contaminates than adults. One out of 13 school-aged children suffers from asthma (Kennedy, 2001). Asthma, a breathing difficulty, is the leading illness that results in more than 10 million absentee days in schools annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Kennedy, 2001). It is believed that the allergens and irritants that contribute to asthma and other illnesses can be reduced in schools with an effective air quality program.

Air Quality Programs

"Principles of Conduct" (Bowman, 2001) should be established when implementing environmental programs, including an air quality program, within school organizations. The "Principles of Conduct" contains the guidelines that are used in the program and should include the following:

Development and issuance of a sound environmental policy statement; Establishment of an effective environmental management system; Formulation and wide distribution of environmental strategies that support the environmental policy statement and are consistent with environmental ethics; Development of environmental objectives, plans, programs, and procedures; Environmentally motivated training and regular meetings; and Integration of environmental costs and cost reductions as a necessary point of the organization's business plans. (Bowman, 2001).

Once the "Principles of Conduct" have been adopted, the HVAC system needs to be evaluated for indoor air quality.

Heating/ventilation/air-conditioning systems

The air movement inside of the school determines an individual's exposure to the pollutants in the air. The HVAC system regulates the air movement. Improved IAQ can be achieved with a well maintained HVAC system; IAQ can be worsened with a HVAC that is not. The EPA determined that failed or improperly maintained equipment resulted in adverse effects to the IAQ in schools. In 1995, this occurred in 50% of the nation's schools. (Fitzemeyer, 2000)

Significant preventive maintenance is required to ensure that healthy IAQ levels are maintained with HVAC systems:

Drain pans and trays: All air-conditioning drain pans can harbor bacterial growth. These pans are designed to collect and remove condensation away from the equipment. However, dirty pans can inhibit the water from being removed, causing bacterial breeding grounds. There should be an air gap in the drain pan. This prevents gases (unidentified) from being drawn back into and circulated from the piping system. Water overflow can result from backed drains causing bacterial growth in other areas of the HVAC system.

Filter selection guidelines: Filtration systems that remove 60% of 0.3 micron particles should be installed. Upgrading a building's filters should only be done after it is determined that the filtration system is capable of withstanding the increased airflow that will result. Filters should be properly installed, gaps sealed, and replaced regularly.

Boilers: Boiler flues that leak and stacks located too close to air intakes allow exhaust (carbon monoxide) to enter the building. Monthly inspections of the flue should be conducted during the heating season to ensure proper draft and that systems are not leaking.

Ventilation codes and standards: The acceptable standard for ventilation is ASHRAE's Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air, 62-1989. The code is based on three assumptions: enough outside air is provided to dilute internally generated contaminated air, the outdoor air being used for ventilation is clean, and the supply of air to the room obtains 100 % mixing or ventilation effectiveness.

Vents: Most mixing occurs in the top portion of a room and exits the room via the return register. Vents need to be located at a proper height and angle (not specified) to ensure proper mixing throughout a classroom.

Cooling towers: Water is used to absorb heat away from the cooling equipment, such as chillers. Bacteria, such as Legionella, can result. A system that uses the necessary chemicals (not identified) to prevent this growth is imperative. Slime and/or algae evidence bacteria growth in the cooling tower sump. Only properly qualified technicians should remove the growth. Quarterly inspections should be conducted accessing the towers and the steam that is emitted. The steam should be far from any intakes and openings, If contaminated steam is emitted, it will pollute the upper floors and roof of a building. Drift eliminators can be installed to rectify the problem.

Humidifiers: Acceptable humidity levels are 20%-30% for computer rooms and libraries. However, humidifiers can produce the same amount of humidity in other areas where a lesser percentage is desirable. Humidifiers that are too large can produce amount of humidity levels over 70%. This level will produce bacteria in the ductwork. Dirty air systems can harbor bacteria along with duct lines. Humidifiers should shut down when the humidity in the air stream is too moist. Testing of proper humidity levels should be done monthly during the heating season. A guide humidity levels within schools can be obtained from ASHRAE's web site: (Fitzemeyer, 2000).

Since there are numerous parts and areas of a HVAC system that require monitoring and servicing, a checklist would be helpful to the maintenance program. This checklist should list all of the parts and areas that require attention. Space should be provided to note what was done, the date of service, and the date for the next service.


Even when the HVAC system is running optimally, there are activities in a school that can be problematic to the IAQ. Improper carpet care can add many pollutants into the indoor air. Emissions from carpeting installed during the summer months when the ventilation system is shut down can be trapped inside of the school. The HVAC should be running when the carpeting is cleaned. Only small areas should be extracted and additional fans should be used to ensure uniform drying that will prevent mold formation. High performance vacuum cleaners should be used. Vacuuming and dusting should be performed on a regular basis. Besides carpet care, the IAQ can be effected by numerous other activities. The EPA suggests the following:

* Remove classroom animals;

* Use integrated pest management;

* Place dumpsters away from the building;

* Fix moisture problems;

* Dry wet areas thoroughly within 24-48 hours;

* Enforce no-smoking policies; and

* Change air filters 4 times annually instead of 2 times. (Kennedy, 2000)

Activities within certain rooms can also cause problems with the IAQ. Some of these activities use art, science, and cleaning supplies as well as personal care products. Exhaust hoods can be installed in these rooms to eliminate the odors that these supplies and/or products create. Conversely, the exhaust from idling school buses can be drawn into the school via the air intakes. To remedy this, the HVAC can be shut down when the buses are present. A timer can be installed that will shut the system down automatically during these times. Finally, the ventilation system should be turned on 90 minutes prior to the start of the school day to air out the building (Kenney, 2001).

School Design

Problems with the IAQ may not be from the HVAC system or from the activities. The school's design may be the culprit. Newly constructed schools are sealed more tightly. This is done to conserve energy; however, it results in less ventilation. More synthetically made furnishings and materials are used in them. The emissions from these synthetics are trapped inside of the school. The "green school" is a new design concept that will help eliminate some of these problems with IAQ.

A green school is an "environmentally sensitive facility" (Sims, 2001). Energy consumption is kept to a minimum, yet the students' needs are addressed. Sims (2001) says that a "truly green school" has the following characteristics:

* Incorporates an energy-efficient design;

* Uses building materials that are non-toxic, recycled, and renewable;

* Conserves water and other natural resources;

* Emphasizes waste management;

* Promotes a healthy indoor environment, including indoor air quality; and

* Demonstrates energy-efficient design principles (Sims, 2001).

With the efficient use of energy; natural resources; and natural materials, unwanted air pollutants are kept to a minimum. The green school, however, goes one step further. The selection of the site on which to build the school is of extreme importance. Site issues to consider are:

* Solar orientation and prevailing winds;

* Preserving existing trees and topsoil;

* Minimizing impervious material (i.e., reducing concrete and asphalt paving areas); and

* Planting vegetation that requires minimal irrigation and maintenance (Sims, 2001).

When the site considerations are taken into account, the IAQ improves. Solar energy replaces some of the fossil fuel usage. The emissions from their use are eliminated. The emissions from a local factory will not be drawn into the ventilation system. Area trees continue to produce oxygen, offer shade, and require no additional care. The minimum use of impervious materials allows for more green growth. The air pollutants from the dust, dirt, and maintenance that result from the material are eliminated. Lastly, the planting of low maintenance vegetation keeps the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers to a minimum. The use of landscape equipment is also reduced. Unnecessary moisture is not added that may harbor bacteria when irrigation is minimized. With site consideration, the immediate outdoor air quality of a school improves. This improved outdoor air enters the school via the air intakes, resulting in improved IAQ.

Environmental Protection Agency

The green school design concept improves both the outdoor and indoor air quality; the EPA works toward the same goal. The EPA was granted authority to develop and enforce national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for outside air with the Clean Air Act of !970. However, no such mandate exists for IAQ. The EPA is currently involved in the Building Assessments and Survey Evaluation (BASE) study. One objective of this study is to define the parameters of IAQ in 100 office buildings.

The researchers of this study collected the following data: (a) air concentrations of VOCs, carbonyls, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, radon, and microorganisms; (b) values of temperature and relative humidity; (c) building characteristics; (d) HVAC characteristics; and (e) occupant perceptions of IAQ (Siple, 1999). Their preliminary findings identified 50 different VOCs measured in concentration (Siple, 1999). Each was below the threshold established by the EPA (Siple, 1999). However, this threshold is for outdoor air, not indoor air. The concentrations may be odorous to some individuals. More importantly, they may pose health risks to those individuals with long term exposure, particularly those individuals with both outdoor and indoor exposure (Siple, 1999).


School IAQ is now becoming a primary concern. The air pollutants found in schools are being suspected of causing illnesses in the students. More children are absent from schools due to asthma, difficulty with breathing, than for any other reason. IAQ programs need to be initiated and maintained. These programs should eliminate as many air pollutants as possible and ensure proper air movement dynamics. To accomplish this, the HVAC needs to be running optimally. Certain activities that produce air pollutants should be eliminated or altered so that the pollutants will be minimized. The green school design that takes into account IAQ should be considered when building new schools since it is always easier to build to IAQ specifications than to retrofit. Although there is no existing mandates governing IAQ, the EPA is currently involved in the BASE study to define the parameters of IAQ. Once this study is completed, the EPA will make its recommendations.


Bowman, V. (2001, February). Implementing an ems. Environmental Protection, 12, 3637.

Fitzemeyer, J. (2000, October). Airing it out. American School & University, 73, 20-25.

Kennedy, M. (2001, February). Into thin air. American School & University. 73, 32-35.

Sims, J. (2001, March). Green schools: A design fad or a trend worth embracing? School Planning & Management, 40, 25-30.

Sipley, G. (1999, December). EPA's focus on IAQ. Environmental protection, 10, 28-32.

Camilia Anne Czubaj, Ed.S., CEO, EMedia Technologies.

Correspondence concerning this article may be addressed to Dr. Camilia Anne Czubaj, 11045 Janis, Utica, MI 48317. Email:
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Author:Czubaj, Camilia Anne
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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