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Back to School – Keeping our Children Safe and Healthy

2009 September 1

In less than two weeks I will send my daughter, Hannah, to her first year of school – kindergarten, where the children will be assigned, I am told, actual homework – and I will experience a milestone day of parental reckoning. But after touring the school, meeting the teachers, and commiserating with the other parents, I am almost as excited as Hannah to experience her first day and let her begin to explore and fulfill her potential.

As someone who has worked on school environmental health since 1996, I know that indoor air quality (IAQ) issues will play a role in my daughter’s ability to do just that—live out her full potential. More and more research shows just how much IAQ in school buildings affects both student and teacher health and performance.

One might think that my knowledge of how poor IAQ can affect children’s health would add to my anxiety about Hannah going to school. But while my position has made me very familiar with the problems associated with poor IAQ, it’s also made me keenly aware of the solutions. I’ve walked a mile in school stakeholders’ shoes, and seen IAQ management from each individual’s perspective. I can personally attest to how passionate people in schools are about protecting children’s health, and how a community effort around these issues can create change.

And a big part of that community effort involves parents. I’d like all the moms and dads interested in advocating for healthy school IAQ to know that they, too, can make a difference at their children’s schools.

Become knowledgeable about the issues and the solutions. Open a dialogue with the school principal about how you could be a partner in their efforts. Offer to be the “parent liaison” for IAQ and share your knowledge with other parents; give a short presentation at a PTA meeting; give the principal an IAQ “fact of the week” to publish in the school newsletter. Better yet, encourage them to get involved in the IAQ Tools for Schools National Awards Program so they are rewarded for their efforts and progress in creating healthy environments. If you become partners with your children’s schools, you will accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

If you remember only one thing from this blog, I hope it is this: IAQ management, much like parenting, is a lifestyle—not a diet. You have to live it.

About the author: Jennifer Lemon has been working on indoor air quality issues in schools since 1996. She works in the U.S. EPA’s Indoor Environments Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Carla permalink
    September 1, 2009

    Where can I obtain information for buildings that may be infested with mold that are not school affiliated, but more so a public assistance (TANF, FoodStamps, and Mediacaid) type building.

  2. Johnny R. permalink
    September 2, 2009

    To what extent do air condtioning systems filter outside air for indoor breathing? If a school is near an industrial park can an ordinary a.c. system filter out any pollutants? I ask because, as the population grows, more industrial manufacturing producing more pollution is inevitable.

  3. dexter permalink
    September 2, 2009

    i think usa doesn’t really care about health because of the massive fast-food adiction.

  4. Wen-Tsorng LAY permalink
    September 2, 2009

    Drink good water for health.

    Have fun.

  5. Cheryl Drown permalink
    September 11, 2009

    My grandaughter is affected by the chemical cleaners used by grocery stores, schools etc. She is especially sensitive to anything used to ‘scent’ a room and to bleach. Guess what they clean desks with every Friday afternoon. Bleach wipes. Even though we send her to school with green cleaners she is exposed to the smell from the other kids. Also, they have to bring in their own wipes so the school won’t have to supply them. It adds insult to injury. Why aren’t chemical cleaners on the lists for irritants?

  6. Charles permalink
    September 11, 2009

    Oh, tell me about it… there’s a woman where I work who likes to spray some sort of air freshner stuff around her cube wall, it drifs around the office. People just don’t think, exept about their selves.

  7. Jennifer Lemon, EPA permalink
    September 18, 2009

    The answer depends on several factors, including the air-conditioning system, the type of filtration system and how it is installed, and the pollutant of concern. Many air-conditioning systems have outdoor air intakes, but some do not (like those in most homes). Most air-conditioning systems that have outdoor intakes include some form of filtration. However many such filtration systems are designed to protect the air-conditioning equipment and not the health of building occupants. One way to evaluate the efficiency of a filter is to look for the MERV rating of the filter. Higher MERV ratings filter larger percentage of the pollutants from the air. How a filter is installed also effects its performance. If a filter is installed such that air bypasses the filter, its effectiveness will go down substantially. Finally, the pollutants of concern are an important consideration since no filter can remove all pollutants. For example, most filters are designed to remove small particles, or particulate matter (PM) from the air. This accounts for many pollutants of concern, but it does not remove gaseous air pollutants such as ozone or carbon monoxide (CO). A special kind of air cleaning device is required to remove gas-phase pollutants.
    More information about air-cleaning can be found at:
    http://www.epa.gov/iaq/aircleaners/index.html

  8. Jennifer Lemon, EPA permalink
    September 18, 2009

    We have guidance for remediating mold in commercial buildings which you can order free of charge. Please visit http://www.epa.gov/mold/ to review this information and place an order for materials.

  9. Jennifer Lemon, EPA permalink
    September 18, 2009

    I would recommend that you contact your grandaughter’s school health and safety department/coordinator. They would know what is currently on the district’s list of appropriate cleaners. Whereas, it is always difficult to manage environmental health issues for sensitive populations, your grandaughter may not be the only student who has these sensitivties to the scented products and bleach used in the room. All school staff and personel want what’s best for the students and occupants of the building. It will be helpful to make the health and safety coordinator aware of your grandaughter’s allergies so they can work with the school staff to make those environmental adjustments and changes to daily cleaning routines.

  10. Sandra permalink
    November 8, 2009

    All schools should under go rigours tests. The cleaners have background checks and the school inspections should be frequent. I run a cleaning company in bradford and although we have no school on our books right now, we are hoping to do so.

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