Many factors can affect your child’s health and how well they perform in school. Did you know indoor air quality is one of them?1 Many public schools in the U.S. have polluted indoor air.
Poor Indoor air quality is known to affect people with asthma and allergies. Creating healthier indoor air is part of an effective asthma and allergy management plan. As a parent or caregiver, you can work hard to have a healthier home, but your child may still be exposed to many asthma triggers at school.
This may result in asthma that is hard to control, poor school performance, and missed school days.
Why is indoor air quality such an issue in schools? Here are a few reasons.
Why Many Schools Have Poor Indoor Air Quality
Several factors can affect a school’s indoor air quality. Some may be obvious. Others may seem harmless or insignificant. But they can all add up as a student is exposed to them throughout their day.
Around 53% of public school buildings need repairs and updates just to be in good condition.2 Schools in low-income areas and with higher numbers of Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous children usually have fewer resources and are in poorer condition.
Schools don’t have enough money to update their buildings. Funding to keep up school buildings falls short by about $46 billion each year.2
Allergens, asthma triggers, and irritants
Dust mites, animal dander, pests, and mold are common allergy and asthma triggers found in schools. Add irritants to the list, such as harsh or heavily scented cleaning chemicals and fumes from buses idling outside school doors. Respiratory infections, which can trigger asthma symptoms, tend to spread more during school months.
Tobacco use is also a concern in schools. Vaping has become very popular among students. In 2022, more than 2.5 million high school and middle school students claimed to use e-cigarettes.3
Proper ventilation in schools can help reduce air pollution and the spread of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19. Many schools need to upgrade their HVAC, ventilation, and filtering systems.2
Air pollution can make asthma symptoms worse. Fumes from cars, buses, and semitrailers contain tiny particles and gases that pollute the air. When those particles and gases are in the air, they can get into your lungs.
School children can be exposed to fumes while riding the bus to and from school. Most afternoons, buses and cars in the pickup line idle just outside schools. Children have to pass through the fumes to get to their ride home. These fumes can also make their way into the school. If a child attends a school near a major roadway, they are also exposed to fumes throughout the day.
The Biden-Harris administration is making $500 million available through a rebate program to fund buses that reduce pollution, save money, and protect health. The EPA is accepting rebate applications from September 28, 2023 until January 31, 2024.
To learn more about the rebate program, visit the Clean School Bus Program webpage.
How to Tell If Your Child Is Affected by Indoor Air Quality at School
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), watch for these signs that polluted indoor air is affecting your child’s health:4
- Your child complains about asthma or allergy symptoms during certain times of the day or week
- Other students in your child’s classroom or groups have similar issues
- Your child feels better when they leave the school but has symptoms again when they return
- The school has recently been renovated or refurnished
- Your child recently started working with new or different materials or equipment at school
- The school started using new cleaning or pesticide products or practices
- Smoking is allowed in or around the school
- The classroom adopts a new warm-blooded animal (such as a hamster or guinea pig)
How We Can Improve Indoor Air Quality in Schools
Funding may prevent schools from making major upgrades to their buildings. But there are some small steps school staff can make to help improve indoor air quality, such as:
- Don’t allow buses to idle close to doors and windows, if possible
- Use unscented and low-VOC cleaning products and methods
- Don’t use scented candles, scent or essential oil diffusers, or scented personal hygiene products (soaps and lotions)
- Don’t allow warm-blooded pets in classrooms
- Fix leaks immediately before they have the chance to grow mold
- Do not use air cleaners with ionizing features or that release ozone
- Keep windows closed when pollen is high or air quality is poor, if possible
- Keep humidity between 30 to 50% to reduce dust mites and help prevent mold
- Use integrated pest management as a way of controlling pests such as cockroaches and mice
The EPA also offers several resources for school staff who want to learn more about creating healthy indoor school environments.
Without funding, many schools are limited on the steps they can take. On a greater scale, we can all advocate for policies and practices that make schools healthier. In AAFA’s 2023 Asthma Capitals™ report, we list steps that can help improve asthma outcomes in schools. Stakeholders, such as lawmakers, health care providers, health insurance and drug companies, and people managing asthma, can all work together to make these happen.
- Advocate for policies that support funding for school building improvements and electric school buses.
- Support programs that help prevent or stop teens and children from smoking and vaping.
- Ensure every school has a nurse.
- Encourage asthma management plans in schools.
- Continue efforts to stock quick-relief asthma medicine (such as albuterol) in schools.
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1. Evidence from Scientific Literature About Improved Academic Performance. (2014, October 20). United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/iaq-school...academic-performance
2. Parents, Students, and Healthy Indoor School Environments. (2023, June 28). United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/iaq-school...-school-environments
3. Results from the Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey. (2022, December 20). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-pr...youth-tobacco-survey
4. Schools. (2021). ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card; American Society of Civil Engineers. https://infrastructurereportca...ools-infrastructure/