Back to School: Can We Trust Air Quality in the Classroom?

Septemer 23rd, 2021

By Jane Marsh

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

With increasing human awareness surrounding sustainability, it’s helpful to apply this reinvigorated knowledge to easing into everyday life again. Spending time in schools has always caused questions among environmentalists, especially concerning waste management and clean water and air.

Since humans breathe an average of 12 to 16 times per minute, air quality should be a top priority in schools to maintain student health and a positive effect on the planet.

What Affects Air Quality in Schools?

The biggest culprit in subpar school air quality is airborne pollutants and illnesses. There are many ways people introduce them into the school’s air. Local weather changes, building characteristics, and students walking around disturbing settled dust all reintroduce potentially unwelcome particles into the air.

The EPA suggests everyone keep an eye out for signs of low air quality, which you may want to communicate to the school about to improve their overall sustainability. Look for:

  • Smelling cigarette smoke or finding out there are individuals who smoke in the school
  • Experiencing similar physical symptoms as other students, maybe noticing the individuals feel fine at home but not acceptable at school
  • Renovating or refurnishing projects happening around the school are causing construction dust
  • Cleaning staff used irritating cleaning products to sanitize and disinfect

Subpar cleaning products affect the quality of water, too. Unnecessary renovations disturb the air and make excess waste for landfills. These aren’t just air quality concerns – they affect other aspects of the environment as well. Everyone should feel encouraged to bring these items to the administration’s attention so they can act. You will also be helping others in the process.

How Can Schools Keep Air Clean?

Investing in Well-Engineered HVAC Systems and Circulation

Having functional equipment involves assessing areas for improvement, creating a maintenance plan, and acting on that plan promptly. For example, regularly replacing air filters and exhaust systems is essential in increasing air circulation. A green, high-functioning air circulation system has numerous moving parts.

Purchasing the most expensive HVAC system on the market may seem well-intended. But, there are many facets of these units that cause them to be eco-friendly and effective. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is the unit to measure effectiveness. These are calculated by standards issued by The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

Here are some impactful factors in an efficient HVAC system design:

  • Possess only one large exhaust fan. This is a better option than many small ones because it decreases the horsepower required to energize the system.
  • Prioritize a larger unit with fewer parts. These are more durable and dependable. Having fewer parts also means fewer replacements during ongoing maintenance.
  • Consider the school’s unoccupied times. Managing temperature, humidity, and airflow during evenings and weekends significantly affects overall air quality when occupants are in the building.

Suggest Weather Stripping or Similar Leak-Protection Methods

The air circulating in a school combines the air already in the building with what’s outside. Using weather stripping is a practical course of action to prevent as much unclean air from contaminating the inside as possible. Weatherstripping seals air leaks with components like caulking or rubber gaskets.

Door bottoms and window casements are great places to implement these protective measures. It can also reduce costs for the school by saving energy with weather stripping’s numerous applications.

Consider Small Changes Instead of Large Scale Renovations

Extensive renovating is sometimes necessary, such as removing old carpets that may affect air quality. But remember: Construction significantly affects air quality depending on the project.

Small actions like opening windows during appropriate weather conditions can help. Adding plants to the classroom that help clean the air and adding air purifiers can do wonders for individual classrooms as well. Considering how many students enter classrooms daily, every aspect helps produce safe, high-quality air.

Does the Air in Schools Affect the Environment?

The School Environment

Pollutants and illnesses are transmitted through the air, affecting students’ health in ways humans cannot see. The average American student spends around 14,000 hours in classrooms, so the atmosphere should be free of irritants and microbes. Success in all aspects of student performance – such as task completion and communication with teachers and administration – positively correlates with improved air quality.

Physical health can improve daily attendance for students and teachers by reducing sick days. The spread of illness and the frequency of side effects associated with pre-existing conditions can be reduced with clean air. Imagine fewer students having headaches, allergic reactions, coughing fits, and other symptoms.

The funding provided by COVID-19 relief should go towards improving indoor ventilation infrastructure so air systems are safer and more durable.

The Global Environment

The school’s impact on air quality directly translates beyond the school doors and into local communities. Air pollution can enter the school just as much as it can be created by conditions within the school walls. This pollution can also escape and contribute to soil and water problems.

Ailments created in schools because of poor air quality can also leave the building, spreading sickness to the surrounding area. Luckily, being attentive to the air quality within the school equates to being observant of the air quality outside the school.

Can We Trust School Air Quality?

Educators, students, and parents are questioning how the air quality in their schools affects everyone and the planet in the long term. Thankfully, educators and governments have placed a greater emphasis on improving these systems for the health and performance of students and the environment.

Staying curious is the best mentality. There are grants for research and for purchasing better equipment, representatives to contact to push effective lawmaking, and questions to ask to act as catalysts for change. All parties can continue encouraging positive shifts by exploring ways to sustain and enhance existing infrastructure. With these efforts, air quality in schools could be the best they have been in history.

About the author:

Jane is the founder and editor-in-chief of where she shares practical tips on how to live a greener life.

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