Back to School: How to Optimize Indoor Air Quality and Improve Student Safety and Health Outcomes When Classes Resume

In a world increasingly conscious of environmental issues and health, the focus typically centers on outdoor air quality. However, indoor air quality (IAQ)—especially in our schools—deserves equal attention. As children spend a significant portion of their days in school buildings, the quality of the air they breathe in these spaces can significantly impact their health, learning, and overall well-being. Let’s delve into some methods of optimizing IAQ—including The Budd Group’s own indoor air quality testing program—to enhance student safety and health outcomes specifically in educational environments.

The Importance of Indoor Air Quality in Schools

Indoor air quality plays a crucial role in ensuring the health and well-being of students, educators, and staff alike. Poor indoor air quality can contribute to an array of health problems, including allergies, asthma, and even learning difficulties.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of the role of airborne transmission in disease spread, making the need for good indoor air quality even more urgent. However, enhancing the air quality in schools requires a concerted, holistic approach that considers all aspects of the indoor environment.

Identifying Indoor Air Pollution Sources in Schools

To tackle indoor air pollution, you must first understand its sources. Among the leading culprits in schools are mold, dust, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and secondhand smoke. Mold and dust often appear due to inadequate cleaning or dampness in buildings, whereas VOCs can emanate from a range of products like cleaning supplies, paint, and even some types of furniture. Secondhand smoke, although less common with stringent smoking regulations, can still infiltrate school environments, adding harmful particulates into the air. The combined effects of these pollutants can contribute to poor indoor air quality, affecting comfort and posing real health risks.

Understanding the sources of indoor air pollution in schools and implementing an indoor air quality monitoring system are the first steps in ensuring clean and healthy air for students. Mold, which can thrive in damp areas like bathrooms or in buildings with leaking roofs or windows, can cause allergic reactions, asthma episodes, and other respiratory symptoms. Dust, an almost omnipresent pollutant, can exacerbate allergies and asthma as well.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful substances emitted by a wide array of products, including cleaning supplies, paints, and office equipment. They can cause a range of health problems, from headaches and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat to more serious liver and kidney damage. Secondhand smoke, although increasingly uncommon in schools, can still be an issue in some areas and carries a host of health risks. Understanding these sources allows you to implement effective strategies for reducing these pollutants.

Selecting Low-Emission Materials for School Renovations

When renovation or maintenance projects begin in schools, carefully selecting materials can help curb indoor air pollution. Many building materials and furnishings, including adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, and certain paints, can off-gas VOCs and other harmful substances. By choosing low-VOC or no-VOC paints, formaldehyde-free furniture and materials, and non-toxic adhesives and sealants, schools can mitigate the emission of harmful substances into the air. In addition, implementing strict protocols for construction and renovation times can limit student and staff exposure to these pollutants.

Renovation projects offer a unique opportunity to improve the indoor air quality of a school. They provide the chance to replace old, potentially harmful materials with newer, healthier alternatives. This is not only beneficial for students and staff but also for the contractors who work with these materials, as well as for the sustainability goals of the school itself.

Implementing Effective Ventilation Strategies in Schools

Proper ventilation is an essential strategy for maintaining good indoor air quality. This tactic reduces concentrations of indoor pollutants by replacing a portion of the indoor air with fresh outdoor air. Schools can employ a range of strategies, including using mechanical ventilation systems that draw in outdoor air and exhaust indoor air, optimizing HVAC systems, and, when conditions allow, using natural ventilation by opening windows and doors. With these approaches, schools can minimize external pollutants like pollen, mold spores, and others, thus enhancing indoor air quality.

Ventilation strategies are a key component of any indoor air quality services protocol to improve indoor air quality. Plus, well-designed ventilation systems can help control temperature and humidity levels, creating a more comfortable environment and reducing the risk of mold growth.

Enhancing Classroom Air Quality With HEPA Filters

High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can significantly improve air quality in classrooms. These devices can capture up to 99.97% of all particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter or larger. By deploying HEPA filters in classrooms and common areas, schools can help prevent the spread of airborne diseases, reduce allergens and particulates, and promote a healthier learning environment. It is crucial to regularly maintain and replace these filters to ensure their efficacy.

In addition to ventilation, filtration is a critical component of an indoor air quality service. HEPA filters are among the most effective, capable of capturing a high percentage of airborne particles, including many allergen, bacteria, and virus particles. Installing these filters in classrooms and common areas can help to keep the air clean and safe for students and staff.

Keep in mind that the effectiveness of HEPA filters is dependent on regular maintenance. Replace filters according to the manufacturer's guidelines, and clean filter housings regularly to prevent the buildup of dust and mold. Additionally, it's important to ensure that the filters are correctly fitted and that there are no gaps around the edges where unfiltered air could pass through.

Adopting Green Cleaning Practices for Healthier Air

A clean school environment is not just about aesthetics; it has a direct impact on air quality as well. Regular cleaning can help control dust and mold, but the cleaning products used must also be scrutinized. Many traditional cleaning products contain harmful chemicals that can contaminate the air and pose health risks. By transitioning to green cleaning products—those that are biodegradable, low toxicity, low-VOC, and safe for human and environmental health—schools can significantly enhance indoor air quality.

Switching to green cleaning products can be an effective solution to harmful chemicals floating in the air. These green products are designed to be less harmful to the environment and human health, often containing fewer VOCs and other dangerous substances. However, it's important to understand that not all products labeled as “green” or “natural” are equally safe or effective. Schools should look for products that have been independently certified as safe and effective, such as those bearing the Green Seal or EcoLogo.

Promoting Indoor Air Quality Education Among Staff and Students

Educating staff and students about the importance of indoor air quality and what they can do to help improve it is a crucial step. Simple actions, such as keeping personal spaces clean and clutter-free, can make a big difference in reducing dust and allergens.

Another important aspect of education is understanding when it is beneficial to keep windows and doors closed. For example, during times of high pollen count or poor outdoor air quality, keeping windows and doors shut can help to maintain cleaner indoor air. Similarly, during periods of cold weather, keeping doors and windows closed can help to prevent drafts and maintain a comfortable and consistent indoor temperature, which can, in turn, help to prevent the growth of mold.

Introducing The Budd Group's BreatheWell Air Quality Program

To facilitate this process, The Budd Group has introduced the BreatheWell Air Quality program. This comprehensive program not only measures and monitors air quality in real time but provides a roadmap for ongoing improvement. The BreatheWell program leverages technology to continually monitor air quality, alerting staff to any potential issues immediately. This proactive approach allows schools to quickly address problems and ensure optimal air quality at all times.

The program starts by installing indoor air quality analyzers in key locations throughout the school. These advanced sensors continuously monitor the air quality, detecting changes in levels of pollutants like VOCs, particulates, and carbon dioxide. The data collected by these sensors inform a comprehensive air quality management plan, which can include strategies for improving ventilation and filtration, cleaning and maintenance protocols, and education and training for staff and students.

The Budd Group: Your School’s Partner for Top-Notch IAQ

The Budd Group's BreatheWell Air Quality program is designed to help schools improve their indoor air quality in a systematic and sustainable way. Our program combines real-time air quality monitoring with expert guidance and support, helping schools identify problems, implement solutions, and maintain improvements over time.

The Budd Group has been serving clients throughout the Southeast United States for over 60 years, and we’re confident that you’ll be satisfied with our expert services. Right now, we’re offering a spring cleaning discount, so you have the opportunity to save 10% when you book your spring or summer projects with us! Contact us today for an initial assessment of your needs or to get started with services.

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