IAQ

New Guidance for Vapor Intrusion Investigations and Response Actions

The quality of outdoor air frequently comes to mind as an important public health concern and rightly so. What sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, though, is the role indoor air quality plays in public health. With the average American spending nearly 90 percent of his or her time indoors, the quality of air in our homes, schools, offices and other buildings is also critical to people’s health.

Vapor intrusion is a type of indoor air pollution that occurs when hazardous vapors from underground contaminated sources, like ground water, seep into buildings through openings such as cracks in basements. The vapors can build up to the point where the health or safety of residents or workers in an affected building could be at risk. Sensitive and vulnerable segments of the population, like pregnant women and the elderly, can be especially susceptible to indoor vapors. Vapor intrusion is a potential concern at any building—existing or planned—located near soil or groundwater that contains toxic chemicals that form vapors.   Early identification and remediation is critical to protect communities.

To support vapor intrusion investigations and cleanup activities across the country, we recently released two technical guides. One guide, the Technical Guide for Assessing and Mitigating the Vapor Intrusion Pathway from Subsurface Vapor Sources to Indoor Air applies to all sites being evaluated under federal land cleanup statutes by EPA, other federal agencies, state and tribal governments and brownfields grantees. A companion document, the Technical Guide for Addressing Petroleum Vapor Intrusion at Leaking Underground Storage Tank Sites addresses any site where vapor intrusion related to petroleum contamination from underground storage tanks is a potential concern. Relying on a large body of peer-reviewed science, the guides allow for flexible and effective approaches for a variety of situations. We believe that states, tribes and localities will find them helpful for vapor intrusion assessments, risk management decisions and mitigation actions.

National awareness and concern about vapor intrusion has grown over the last several decades.  At the same time, our knowledge of and experience with vapor intrusion has increased substantially, leading to better approaches for evaluating and managing it. The guides harness this knowledge and present our current recommendations for identifying, evaluating and mitigating vapor intrusion in both residential and non-residential settings.

While vapor intrusion can pose a serious threat to people’s health in certain circumstances if it goes unaddressed, the good news is that exposures usually can be prevented or reduced through relatively simple actions such as changing building pressure and ventilation. In most cases, costs associated with addressing vapor intrusion can be very manageable, resulting in long-term benefits including improved public health and savings down the road, especially when issues are addressed early.

For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/oswer/vaporintrusion/

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Oklahoma School Shows How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Isn’t it great when a plan comes together? Schools across the nation are finding out that a good indoor air quality (IAQ) plan can make a big difference for a child’s education and health. As an asthmatic, I know firsthand the importance of creating a healthy indoor environment. As the schools coordinator for EPA Region 6, it’s great to see schools being proactive about addressing IAQ comprehensively and making students’ health a priority.

One school in particular ─ Ponca City Public Schools in rural Oklahoma ─ is a good example of how to take action to improve IAQ for students and staff. These efforts can be replicated in any school, and it is definitely a lesson worth sharing.

The school district started by reaching out to experts and finding mentorship from other school districts that were dealing with similar issues. They soon began using EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Kit, which became an invaluable asset. The kit helped them develop an IAQ management program, identify and prioritize improvements, and communicate successes.

To focus its efforts, Ponca City organized an IAQ team to help coordinate actions. EPA’s guidelines helped the team identify specific tasks to improve school IAQ. They worked through technical concerns and challenges using the Framework for Effective School IAQ Management. Steps toward improvement included minimizing clutter in classrooms and ensuring adequate air ventilation.

A key to the program’s success was communication: communicating their efforts helped secure buy-in and support. By implementing an online survey, everyone was involved in the process, which also gave the district an opportunity to evaluate its new initiative through feedback. Anyone interested in improving a school’s IAQ should take note: sharing your program’s goals, activities, results and next steps is essential to gaining community buy-in and sustaining a long-term IAQ management program.

Ponca City’s road to success proves to me that any district — regardless of location or size — can work to develop a successful IAQ management program. Research links improvements in school air quality to enhance academic performance.  I was amazed to see how proud IAQ team members became of the work they do each day once they understood the connections between IAQ, health and academic achievement. I am proud of Ponca City’s tale, and I hope other school districts make the commitment to create healthy environments in our nation’s schools.

About the author: Stacy Murphy has been the schools coordinator for EPA Region 6 —serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 tribes — since March 2006. He is responsible for coordinating all activities related to the impact of indoor environmental quality in school districts, and the main tool he uses when discussing IAQ with school districts in his region is the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Back to School – Keeping our Children Safe and Healthy

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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