Schools have always been considered a second home for many reasons. Therefore, it should be safe, encouraging and healthy for students. But of all the measures and practices implemented to secure their welfare, there is something that most educational institutions often miss : indoor air quality. 

Poor indoor air quality in schools has long been a threat to students’ health, but the recent coronavirus pandemic has intensified the urgency to improve it. Given that children spend a significant proportion of their time in schools, indoor air quality in these establishments matters, and as they gradually reopen after a lengthy hiatus, creating healthier classrooms for students must be part of their agenda. 

Before taking steps to improve the air quality in educational establishments, it is extremely essential to fully understand the problem, its potential sources and the adverse effects that it can have. 

 

Common indoor air contaminants in school buildings 

Pollutants Potential Sources
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Emitted by building and furniture materials, cleaning products, pesticides and tobacco smoke. 
Viruses and molds Due to poorly maintained HVAC systems
Carbon Monoxide Generated by indoor and outdoor combustion
Formaldehyde Paint and adhesives
Carbon dioxide  School and animal waste, human activities, excessive energy consumption
Particulate Matter  Emissions from vehicles, printing and photocopying equipment, infrequent vacuuming and dusting

 

The air pollutants listed above are often overlooked and neglected, but they must not be. Depending on the type of pollutant, its effects can be visible immediately or even years later. 

 

Problems associated with poor indoor air quality 

Poor indoor air quality affects us all, but it may pose greater risk in children more than adults since their bodies are still young and developing. At school, students who are exposed to stale indoor air can suffer from a range of short-term to long-term physical and mental health issues.

    • Severe asthma symptoms
      • According to the American Lung Association, children who are constantly exposed to high levels of indoor air pollution are at greater risk of experiencing more frequent and severe asthma flare ups. Exposure to poor indoor air can also cause nighttime coughing, chronic wheezing and Sick Building Syndrome with symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation, fatigue, dizziness and headaches. This can interfere with their sleep and reduce their ability to do activities like running and playing. 
    • Higher risk of having respiratory infections
      • Children breathing polluted air can have higher risk of developing respiratory infections like bronchitis, colds, and other airborne diseases such as the coronavirus. Frequent exposure to poor indoor air decreases the immune system’s capacity to function well, thereby increasing a child’s vulnerability to respiratory ailments. 
    • Indoor air pollution weakens memory function
      • Indoor air pollution can lead to poor memory performance. In fact, a report from a leading health journal, Health Affairs shows that high amounts of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) decreases memory function by 7.37%. 
      • Also, the exposure to Carbon Dioxide (CO2), unbalanced temperature and high amounts of fine particulates can make it more difficult for a student to focus and strategize which can have catastrophic consequences on their personal development and academic achievements. 
    • Inadequate ventilation can lead to poor exam performance. 
      • Clean air may help the brain function better, but this can’t be achieved without proper ventilation. Ventilation is the act of removing poor indoor air in an enclosed space and replacing it with fresh air from outdoors. Proper air circulation prevents bacteria, viruses and gasses from being trapped within the facility. 
      • Students in stuffier classrooms did worse on standardized tests than students did in buildings with fresher air, Science News for Students claims. When classrooms are not well ventilated, carbon dioxide levels can build up and students will have trouble concentrating. 
      • In another study, researchers analyzed the indoor air quality in schools using 100 5th grade classrooms. It has found out that indoor air quality in most of these classrooms is substandard and students who got to breathe fresher air in school performed well on their standardized exams. 

In addition to the health and mental effects of poor indoor air quality in school facilities, contaminants can damage building materials thereby increasing the operational, replacements and maintenance costs. 

Managing indoor air quality in schools

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted school administrators around the world to establish stringent measures to keep schools safe and healthy. Aside from implementing mask and vaccination regulations, the adoption of air quality monitors as one of the indoor air quality tools in schools is seen to be an innovative strategy to mitigate the unwanted effects of poor indoor air to students. 

uHoo Aura is the most advanced indoor air quality sensor that monitors 13 factors affecting air quality, including carbon dioxide. Monitoring CO2 levels is a good indicator of ventilation — this way, school administrators can ensure that the facility is replenishing fresh air, thus mitigating health risks including asthma attacks and virus infections. 

uHoo Aura can also measure fine particulate matter, VOCs, NO2, temperature, humidity and more. Data insights can be viewed using a centralized dashboard which can be used by staff and school leaders when creating actions to ensure the safety, productivity and outstanding academic performance of students. To learn more about uHoo Aura’s capabilities and technology that are suitable for every school’s IAQ monitoring requirements, read more.

 

 

References:

  1. https://newsroom.hitachiaircon.com/en/news/indoor-air-quality-and-children-s-education
  2. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/stuffy-classrooms-may-lower-test-scores
  3. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/stuffy-classrooms-may-lower-test-scores
  4. https://newsroom.hitachiaircon.com/en/news/indoor-air-quality-and-children-s-education
  5. https://www.lung.org/clean-air/outdoors/who-is-at-risk/children-and-air-pollution
  6. https://getuhoo.com/blog/education/air-quality-affects-childrens-school-performance/