When it comes to excelling in the classroom, it turns out the air students are breathing is just as important as the lessons they are learning. Studies show poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can lessen the comfort of students as well as staff, affecting concentration, attendance and student performance. It can even lead to lower IQs. What's more, poor indoor air quality can lead to health problems, including fatigue, nausea and asthma.

About 20 percent of the U.S. population--roughly 55 million people--spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools. Improving indoor air quality in education facilities would be an important step toward improving public health. It can help reduce absenteeism; improve student and staff concentration, student productivity and performance; and decrease IAQ-related health risks.

Reduce chemical pollutants

Human exposure to air pollutants indoors may be two to five times, and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels. In schools, respiratory problems--such as asthma, allergies and bronchitis--have been associated with excessive use of pollutants such as formaldehyde, pesticides and cleaning compounds.

Reducing indoor contaminant levels with high-efficiency filters and germicidal lights, as well as using lower-emission cleaning supplies, can help reverse the adverse effects of pollutants in the air. These products help control three classes of air contaminants: particles (pollen, dust mites, dirt and pet dander); bioeaerosols (bacteria, viruses, mold spores and fungi); and odors/chemical vapors (chlorine, cleaning supplies and paint). Studies show that reducing the levels of these chemical irritants can significantly decrease absenteeism attributed to chronic respiratory illnesses.

Balance humidity levels

Fluctuations in temperature and humidity also can affect comfort and concentration levels of students and staff. Moderate changes in room temperature can influence a student's ability to concentrate on mental tasks such as multiplication, addition and sentence comprehension. High humidity levels may make the air feel sticky and provide a breeding ground for mold, mildew, dust mites and bacteria. What's more, high relative air humidity has been linked to the prevalence of asthma in schools.

Humidity control in schools has become more difficult. Today's building designs require more outdoor air ventilation, and that brings more moisture into the air. Keeping relative humidity levels between 50 and 60 percent will help improve comfort and reduce the spread of allergens.

Although high-efficiency filters can handle some of the load, a dehumidification system is necessary to help prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. Installing a high-efficiency HVAC system also can assist with indoor temperature control as part of a total IAQ solution.