Indoor Air Quality in Educational Buildings
About forty percent of all educational buildings in the US were built during or after the 1970s, the decade during which energy conservation became a national concern and priority. More than one-half of the educational buildings in the US were constructed during the "baby boom" years following World War II (1946 to 1969). Many of these older buildings are presently undergoing significant renovations, being retired or are being replaced by new buildings.
Further, a number of school districts use portable classrooms to accommodate over crowding or to house students and staff during renovations of older buildings. In California alone, about two million children spend at least part of their school day inside one of 86,000 portable classrooms. Teachers and students in new units frequently complain about the odors caused by the off gassing from construction materials such as paint, carpet, furnishings and paneling. Many of these materials emit chemicals such as formaldehyde and other types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Consequently, new portable classroom units need to be ventilated for a period of time before they are occupied. In addition, as portable classrooms get older, they are more vulnerable to water damage from roof leaks, which can result in indoor mold growth.
Although educational buildings comprise only about seven percent of all buildings in the US, indoor environmental problems are of particular concern as children are more susceptible to indoor air pollutants than adults. Because children are still growing and breathe in proportionately more air than adults, some indoor pollutants, such as pesticides, can be more harmful to children. Some of the health problems that may be seen with poor indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools include headaches; nasal congestion; breathing problems; eyes, nose and throat irritation; coughing; rashes; and many other problems depending on the type of chemical. Molds and allergens lead to respiratory illnesses and also can make allergy and asthma symptoms worse.
Schools also have other unique characteristics that make them more of a concern than other types of buildings, including:
Denser populations. A typical school has four times as many occupants as an office building for the same amount of floor space.
Overcrowding. New classrooms may be built or classrooms may be divided without considering the ventilation system. In addition, all schools, whether public or private, are usually strapped for funds, which means there is often little money available for good preventive maintenance.
Wide variety of activities. The many different types of activities in schools may contribute pollutants to the indoor air; for example, science labs, art classes, and vocational classrooms such as cosmetology, auto repair, photography and wood shops.
This portion of the Aerias site takes a closer look at variables that impact IAQ in educational buildings, as well as what to do to solve and prevent IAQ problems, including:
Detailed articles addressing specific topics are accessible from each of these sections, by clicking on the topic listed in the navigation menu to the right side of this page.
1999 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, Energy Information Administration. Washington, DC. www.eia.doe.gov. Visited March 24, 2004.
Lucas, G. Assembly OKs bill to study health risks of portable classrooms. The San Francisco Chronicle, January 28, 2000.