Good indoor environmental quality (IEQ) is an important component for improving the productivity of students, teachers and support staff. It is crucial for a sense of health and well-being.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), almost 20 percent of the population of the United States spends a significant portion of the day in one of the nation's more than 120,000 public and private K-12 schools. About 55 million children occupy elementary and secondary schools, and another 6 million adults fill various teaching, administrative and support functions.
One factor that makes schools such an important focus for environmental improvements is that children are more sensitive than adults to exposure. As such, the overall indoor environmental quality has a significant influence on student attendance and performance. Studies have shown that poor indoor air quality results in more illness, absenteeism and asthma attacks. Because many schools receive funding based on daily attendance, any rise in illness and absenteeism can mean less funding.
A student whose asthma is not being controlled in school is distracted from learning, and an entire class can be affected when teachers must attend to the physical well-being of the child. Asthma-related problems are estimated to be responsible for 14.7 million missed school days every year and affect one in 13 children of school age. Typical asthma triggers include mold, dust mites, insect body parts and some chemicals.
Old vs. new
To some it may seem that old school buildings are the biggest problem. A federal study found that in 1998, the average school building in the United States was 42 years old — with more than a quarter of these buildings having been built prior to 1950. Older buildings, especially those that have been maintained poorly, can have environmental problems — but so can newer buildings. The selection, use and maintenance of building materials and furnishings also can affect the indoor environment.
In its publication “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says: “Some moisture problems in buildings have been linked to changes in building construction practices during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Some of these changes have resulted in buildings that are tightly sealed, but may lack adequate ventilation, potentially leading to moisture buildup.”
Even occupants of new buildings can experience adverse effects from elevated levels of chemicals emitted from products used during construction or building maintenance. Those that do not react overtly still may suffer from a reduction in learning, because concentration and the ability to calculate and memorize suffer.