Washoe Country School District

July 23, 2014

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Indoor Air Quality

In general, how safe for children is the air in our schools?

The air found in schools is safe in environments that are clean, in good repair and have no obvious source of contamination.

Are schools unique in respect to indoor air quality?

Yes, unlike other buildings, managing schools involves the combined responsibility for public funds and child safety issues. Unique aspects include: occupants functioning close together, limited budgets, a variety of pollutant sources such as art and science supplies, gymnasiums, specialty maintenance chemicals and animals.

Is asthma a relevant issue in regard to school indoor air quality?

Yes. The prevalence of asthma has increased. While specific reasons for this increase are unknown, exposures to specific allergens (tobacco smoke, dust mites, pet dander, mold, etc) are implicated in allergic diseases, including asthma. Because indoor allergens and environmental conditions may be a contributor to asthma problems during the school day, reduction or management of allergens is desirable. A clean, well-ventilated school environment can reduce environmental asthma triggers for some children.

Is there any evidence concerning increased incidences of infectious diseases and school indoor air quality?

Evidence does not indicate that infectious disease transmissions are singularly caused by poor indoor air quality. Transmissions of routine colds and viruses occur whenever people gather. Adequate ventilation to a room can dilute the concentrations of infectious elements in the air and thereby reduce the potential exposure to nearby people.

What are the health effects that may be associated with poor indoor air quality?

There is a broad spectrum of health effects from poor indoor air quality. There may be no effect or no significant effects for some individuals, while others may suffer from multiple symptoms.

The effect on an individual has to do with the type of contaminant, the quantity in the air, the duration of the exposure and the individual's unique physiological response.

Poor indoor air quality can be implicated in a variety of health related symptoms. These include: coughs, eye irritation, headaches, asthma episodes, allergic reactions, lethargy, shortness of breath, itchy eyes and nausea

Many signs and symptoms are nonspecific and make diagnosis a challenge. The difficulty is further compounded by the similar symptoms of many of the pollutants to those associated with cold, allergies or flu and even stress or work pressures.

Why is carpet allowed in classrooms and halls?

Carpet has been installed because it absorbs noise; it is a softer walking surface and is less slippery than tile floors. Although carpet will reduce the chance for slips and falls, carpet does not clean as well as hard, non-porous surfaces. Carpet can become a "sink" where microorganisms accumulate over time. This environment provides absorptive surfaces for the uptake of water that can support the growth of microorganisms. On the other hand, dirt is more easily made airborne on a tile floor.

What indoor air pollutants are found in schools?

Schools are not likely to be a source of high levels of indoor air pollutants but there can still be a variety of pollutants such as: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, animal dander, mold and volatile organic compounds such as: formaldehyde, pesticides and solvents.

What are the sources of indoor air pollutants?

Some pollutants, such as animal dander can be brought into the school by students. Human beings exhale carbon dioxide. New building materials can contribute to the presence of volatile organic compounds (carpet, wallpaper, glues, particle board, furniture, etc). Radon naturally occurs in the soil and may migrate up into the building. Mold can grow anywhere when it is supported by high humidity and nutrients and spores exist everywhere in our environment.

Should pets and other animals be allowed in the classroom?

Animals can cause allergic reactions in some people so limiting the use of animals in the classroom should be considered. Animals should not roam freely, to prevent contamination, especially of the carpet, from urine and feces. If a student can document allergic problems with an animal, removal of the animal should be considered.

Should staff be allowed to bring used furniture into the school?

Old furniture can carry animal dander and animal hair as well as have stuffing that contains allergens. For these reasons they are not recommended.

Are "air filters", "ionizers" or "air cleaners" useful for a classroom or office?

Air cleaning alone can not adequately remove all pollutants typically found in indoor air. The EPA has not taken a position for or against the use of air cleaners. These devices do remove some materials from the air, but they should NOT be expected to solve indoor air quality problems. Room sized cleaners will probably have little effect on the air quality within the room due to the constant introduction of ventilation air into the space. If used, units should not be place on the floor because the blowing air will stir up dust on the floor.

Ozone production is also a concern when using these products. Ozone can be produced by some electronic air cleaners. Ozone is a lung irritant as well as an air pollutant.

What about the use of candles or "plug-ins" in a classroom or office?

These items are not recommended due to the highly sensitive nature of some students and staff to these chemicals.

Are perfumes and colognes a contributing factor to poor indoor air quality?

Yes, they can be. Many people are highly sensitized to the effects of both perfumes and cologne. It is recommended that people refrain from the heavy use of these products while in any school district building.


Adapted from:
Carlson, Neil et al. "School Indoor Air Quality Questions". Univ of Minnesota, Environ Health and Safety IAQ Site. 21 April 1998. 26 Dec. 2006 http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/schools/index.html