The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a glaring light on the importance of proper ventilation and indoor air quality in schools. As attention returns to longstanding air Pollution issues in many US classrooms, it becomes clear that addressing these concerns is crucial to maintaining a healthy learning environment. Pollutants such as pet dander, paint fumes, mould, trace metals, and formaldehyde can have severe effects on student health and learning.
For years, schools faced funding shortfalls that led to postponing critical projects to improve indoor air quality and ventilation. The federal government’s 2021 decision to distribute $123 billion in emergency relief funds for schools offered a renewed opportunity to tackle these projects. School districts have until September 2024 to spend the money, and experts and advocacy organizations are urging them to prioritize improving indoor air quality.
Despite the CDC’s emphasis on increased airflow and ventilation to prevent COVID-19 spread, a recent report revealed that many school districts haven’t implemented the recommended strategies. To help schools improve indoor air quality, MCH Strategic Data surveyed 8,410 school districts. Epidemiologist Miguella Mark-Carew suggests that journalists ask district leaders about barriers to improvement and experiences implementing changes.
Here were the main findings from those surveys:
- Tens of thousands of U.S. schools have faulty or outdated HVAC systems; many lack air conditioning
- Poor indoor air quality and ventilation are common global issues in schools
- Pollutant levels are often higher in schools than in homes or commercial buildings
- Health problems linked to poor indoor air quality include coughing, wheezing, asthma, and cancer
- Polluted air negatively impacts students’ academic performance and increases absenteeism
- No generally accepted criteria exist for determining problematic levels of dampness and mold
- Improvements in outdoor air quality have been linked to better student test scores
- Cleaner air could potentially reduce test score disparities between Black and white students
- Climate change exacerbates air quality challenges, leading to increased air conditioning installations in schools in cooler regions
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Children are particularly susceptible to health issues linked to poor air quality. Several academic studies and government reports indicate that tens of thousands of US schools operate with faulty or outdated HVAC systems, and many schools lack air conditioning. Poor indoor air quality is a global issue, with certain pollutants found in higher concentrations inside schools than in homes or commercial buildings.
Health problems associated with poor air quality range from coughing and wheezing to asthma and cancer. Moreover, polluted air negatively impacts academic performance, as sick students miss school, and poor classroom air quality reduces cognitive ability. Remediation efforts are complicated by the lack of criteria for identifying problematic levels of dampness and mould. However, outdoor air quality improvements have led to better test scores, hinting at the possibility of reducing historical test score disparities between Black and white children.
Climate change presents new challenges for schools, as some airborne pollutants are more prevalent in warmer climates. Rising temperatures have led to the installation of air conditioning in schools in cooler regions. To protect the health and learning of future generations, it is crucial that schools invest in improving indoor air quality. We encourage everyone to spread awareness and urge their local school districts to prioritize air quality improvement projects, ensuring a brighter and healthier future.
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