Indoor Air Quality

Wash Your Hands!

By Lina Younes

Winter is commonly referred to as the cold and flu season. Given the cold temperatures, increasingly people will stay indoors where they may be more exposed to others who already have colds. No doubt that indoor air quality is essential for our health. So, what can we do to prevent these colds and the flu? Maintaining a distance from those who are sick may be helpful, but what do you do when a close family member is sick or you come in contact with someone who still doesn’t show signs of a cold? Well, preventing colds may be easier than you think. Point of advice: wash your hands often!

Keeping hands clean is one of the best ways of preventing the spread of germs including those of the common cold. It’s important to wash hands before, during and after preparing food as well as eating. Also, wash your hand after coughing or sneezing to avoid spreading your own germs. Although hand sanitizers can reduce germs in some situations, good old fashion water and soap still remains the best cleaning method.

As a child, I was always prone to colds. I didn’t completely outgrow them, but I have noticed that in the last year or two they have become less frequent. What have I done differently? Well, after I go to the bathroom and wash my hands, I keep a clean paper towel to open the doors along the way, thus preventing exposure to some hard surfaces like door knobs and elevator buttons which might be contaminated with cold germs. I cannot say scientifically if the combination of increased hand washing plus the paper towel is the main cause, but I’ve definitely seen the benefits by suffering less colds.

Since small children tend to put their hands and objects in their mouth, teaching them to wash their hands well and often will be good preventing medicine. Washing hands often is a good habit that applies to people of all ages. Have a health year!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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IAQ Management: Essential for a Healthy School Environment

By Richard Middleton

During my tenure as the superintendent of the North East Independent School District in San Antonio, TX, I’ve had one goal in mind: provide the best, most nurturing learning environments to my students that I possibly can. And after 21 years of doing just that, I can tell you that this simply cannot be done without addressing indoor air quality (IAQ).

IAQ is one of those issues that can too easily be pushed aside and minimized by one of many other concerns that school districts have. But, in my opinion, it’s one of the most important things that a school district can do to ensure that their students are healthy, learning and thriving – and that the teachers are too! And just a few, simple changes in maintenance practices can make a huge difference.

For example, in our district we were bogged down by clutter. We had cluttered classrooms and storage areas full of items that were just collecting dust. It was so bad that our cleaning crews couldn’t even navigate through the classrooms around the clutter to properly clean! By simply eliminating the clutter and removing carpeting in classrooms and hallways and following EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Program guidance we improved IAQ and saw dramatic decreases in absenteeism and visits to the school nurse that have been sustained over time. It didn’t take much – but it did take making a commitment to improving IAQ and sticking to it.

And for those school districts out there that don’t feel like they have the expertise or resources to begin the process of developing an IAQ management plan, the IAQ Tools for Schools Program is there to help you every step of the way. It provides help with IAQ planning and management tools and connects you with peers and mentors so you can learn from each other’s experiences. In particular, I would encourage school districts at the beginning of the IAQ management process to attend the 2011 IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium. It’s an invaluable resource and one of the best things that we did while developing our IAQ management program.

About the Author: Richard Middleton has devoted his career to the education and betterment of children. For the past 21 years he has served as the superintendent of the North East Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas. North East Independent School District is a recipient of EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools National Excellence Award, which is presented to school districts that have shown exceptional commitment to good IAQ management in schools.

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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The Louisiana Recovery School District: Healing and Thriving

modBy Tiffany Delcour

Indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools is my top priority – and here in the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) we’ve had our work cut out for us since Hurricane Katrina to ensure that our schools are as safe and healthy as they can be. But believe it or not, the issue of IAQ didn’t begin with Katrina. Now, don’t get me wrong, Katrina damaged 80% of our school facilities and caused $1.8 billion in damages. Five years later, we are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina on our school district and in many places we have vast, modular campuses instead of permanent school buildings. But really the issue of IAQ started with deferred maintenance costs before the storm.

Deferred maintenance costs are an issue that many, many school districts can relate to, especially older districts with aging buildings. Over time, deferred maintenance can lead to high levels of carbon dioxide, moisture, humidity, HVAC issues and more – universal concerns for school districts, not just those located in hurricane recovery areas. They are issues that RSD is now tackling in all of its schools – including the ones that weren’t damaged by Katrina.

After Katrina, RSD created a district-wide, master rebuilding plan that encompasses all aspects of the rebuilding process — including the issue of IAQ. It also includes a component for preventative maintenance and long-term planning. EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Program has been integral to the RSD recovery process.

Last year RSD was featured at the IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium as a Featured School District. There we shared our story and challenges and received mentorship on how to effectively utilize the IAQ Tools for Schools program. And after we got home, we got to work. The program provided an already-established structure and framework, complete with guidelines and best practices, from which we created an RSD-specific IAQ strategy. We established an air quality team at each school, implemented recommended guidelines, prioritized remediation issues and employed focused preventative maintenance strategies. And we’re happy to report that this year RSD will be attending the Symposium again to share these successes.

We would encourage anyone who is concerned about the health of students, staff, and school buildings in their communities to attend the Symposium – January 13-15, 2011, in Washington, DC. You’ll leave inspired, informed and ready to take on the world.

About the author: Tiffany Delcour joined the Louisiana Recovery School District a little over a year ago as the IAQ coordinator. She has worked directly with EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program as a featured school at the IAQ Tools for Schools Symposium and currently serves as a mentor to other school stakeholders.

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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Children's Health in Indian Country

By Margo Young

As a mom of two young children I relate to any parent or caregiver trying to create a healthy environment for children to thrive and grow. As a public health worker in the field of children’s health protection, I am also acutely aware that the environments we raise our children in this country are vastly different from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, state to state, and that these differences impact the health and well-being of our children.

This is especially true in Indian Country. While many Native American populations maintain intricate and ecologically interdependent relationships with the natural environment, these relationships have been impacted by environmental pollution, changes in subsistence lifestyles and political isolation, which threaten the health, wellness, and way of life of tribal communities. In light of Children’s Health Month, it is appropriate to highlight these differences, but also embrace the common goal of protecting our most vulnerable populations of children.

Children often bear a disproportionate impact from environmental contaminants. Living conditions, walkable communities, access to play areas and health care and limited resources are some of the challenges that tribal communities face in addressing environmental health issues. American Indian and Alaska Native children are more than twice as likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases and are more likely to be hospitalized from these chronic conditions. These illnesses can be caused or exacerbated by substandard housing conditions and poor indoor air quality, including mold and moisture, wood burning, the use of pesticides and other chemicals, smoking and inadequate ventilation. Fixing and addressing these problems can prevent certain life-long impacts on children.

The good news is that there are many actions we can take to address these issues and make homes and communities healthier for children. You can find information and tips on improving indoor air quality in tribal communities from EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tribal Partners Program. Protecting the health of children is a compelling motivation to improve our environment — during Children’s Health Month and throughout the year. Take the initiative now and find out what you can do to improve children’s health.

About the Authors: Margo Young lives in Seattle and is the Region 10 Children’s Environmental Health and Environmental Education Coordinator and has been with EPA for over 5 years.

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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A Back-to School Checklist for Indoor Air Quality?

It’s that time of year again and everyone can relate to the annual school supply checklist and the hours spent preparing for the upcoming school year. Binders – check. Pens – check. But, how many school staff, parents or students stop to think about whether the school they will return to is a healthy learning environment—free of indoor air quality (IAQ) issues?

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Before coming involved with EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program, little did I know that the everyday classroom environment can seriously affect student performance. Was that vanilla plug-in from my 7th grade math class a decoy to mask an odor problem, caused by poor ventilation? Did Fluffy the 3rd grade pet rabbit make my asthma worse?

While I can’t change the past conditions, I look forward to a future where all schools can effectively manage indoor air quality and maintain a healthy learning environment. With the help of the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit, school staff and parents can learned on how to improve indoor air problems at little-or no-cost through straightforward activities. Use this back-to-school checklist help you get started this school year:

  • Learn more about IAQ issues, related health effects, and how student performance is affected. Equip yourself with EPA’s free resources that can help you explain IAQ issues and discuss an indoor air quality management program other parents, community organizers, and your school community. Consider becoming a volunteer to help coordinate the effort.
  • Build momentum for a school environmental health project. With the help of IAQ Curricula, even students can learn about the indoor air environment and how it can affect concentration, attendance, and performance.
  • Help manage asthma in the school environment. Discover ways reduce student and staff exposure to asthma triggers in your school. If your child suffers from asthma, be sure to provide the school with a copy of your child’s asthma action plan.
  • Encourage your school to apply for an award. If your school or school district has implemented a successful IAQ program, learn more about the EPA Awards Program.

About the Author: Brandy Angell is a public affairs specialist with the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air’s Indoor Environments Division. She joined EPA in 2009 to focus on improving children’s health in the school environment and reducing the burden of asthma. Her work recently took on new importance with the impending arrival of a son in January 2011.

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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What Life is Like Working in a Green Building?

image of greenery with cityscape in the backgroundWhile this photo may appear to be that of a lush meadow in the foreground of a big city, it is actually a vegetated rooftop on a 9-story building in downtown Denver. When EPA Region 8’s office moved to a new “green” office building in Lower Downtown Denver, I did not know what to expect. I had never worked in a green building before. I really did not think it would be that different from a regular building. Was I wrong… Not only was the building very beautiful, it was the most comfortable building I have ever been in. From the lighting to the indoor air quality, I knew we were in a top quality and healthy working environment.

Our building is environmentally friendly and provides daily opportunities for us to practice stewardship. Some features of our building that help us decrease our impact include:

  • Extensive use of daylight to reduce need for artificial light
  • A vegetated green roof to control storm water and decrease urban heat island effect
  • Waterless urinals and low-flow plumbing fixtures to decrease water use
  • High recycled content materials throughout the building
  • Proximity to public transit

However, it is not enough to simply build a green building; a big part of the equation is how the building is operated and the behavior of the occupants. Region 8’s Environmental Management System helps us improve our performance by quantifying and managing the impacts of our operations (e.g., electricity and water use, waste generation and transportation) and taking actions to reduce those impacts.

The green design, construction, operation and maintenance of 1595 Wynkoop, combined with close attention to our collective actions, help EPA in our efforts to practice what we preach.

Working in a green building is the only way to work in my mind. I have more energy throughout the day which I attribute to the environmentally healthy aspects of our building. I have the pleasure of knowing my work day has also been less of an impact to the environment. You can find out more, hear an audio tour and see lots of pictures of our green building at: http://www.epa.gov/region8/building/index.html

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 11 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

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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How Do You Market Behavior Change?

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

I was buying shampoo yesterday and was, for some reason, drawn to a particular brand I had never bought before. I didn’t realize why I was drawn to this particular product until later that day when I caught myself humming the jingle of the shampoo’s commercial on my walk home.

What influences you to change your behavior in your day to day life? An article? A friend’s message? A public official’s warning?

Our goal in public health marketing is changing individual’s behaviors, but influencing someone to test their home for radon can be challenging. Science has informed our thinking about radon. Now, we’re challenged to convey actionable messages to the public.

EPA and its partners have promoted radon awareness through a national media campaign. All of EPA’s public service announcements, or PSAs, are actually free for the public to download for TV, radio and print.

In 2001, the National Academy of Television, Arts, and Sciences bestowed a national Emmy Award to the PSA, “Take the National Radon Test: Man on the Street,” for raising awareness of the health effects of radon.

Because information from a trusted source often moves people to act, EPA developed a campaign around the Surgeon General’s Warning against radon. Similarly, the National Conference for State Legislatures works with other partners to air state legislator’s messages on local radio stations during NRAM 2010. Last year, 154 legislators urged their constituents to test their homes for radon through these PSAs.

EPA has also bundled the radon message with other environmental movements to reach the public in new ways. For example, radon is now part of a larger green campaign to sock it to radon. EPA also sponsored a YouTube video contest to promote the message: “Radon. Test. Fix. Save a Life.” The winning entry, Eddie’s Story, can be found on our Website.

EPA’s radon marketing efforts are expanding to reach a variety of audiences, but there is always room to grow. What is science without an actionable message? What have you done to influence individual behavior change through public messaging?

About the author: Rebecca L. Reindel, MFS, is an Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow in the Indoor Environments Division, part of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. She is completing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the George Washington University. She holds a Master’s in Forensic Toxicology and has previously addressed workplace exposures for taxi drivers and was an instructor at GWU.

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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Kids, Creativity and the National Radon Poster Contest

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Two months ago, I helped judge the 2010 National Radon Poster Contest.

What amazed me most was the amount of creativity in the posters submitted by children, aged 9 to 14. Several times I assumed I was staring at an entry from a junior high student and it turned out to be from a fourth grader … a fourth grader! It gave me a great opportunity to appreciate children as messengers for environmental causes. The amount of poster entries this year was incredible: 216 schools in 36 states, one U.S. territory and seven tribal nations created a total of 2,862 posters!

Creators of the winning 2010 posters are being recognized today at the Indoor Air Quality Tools for School Symposium in Washington, D.C. The national first place winner is pictured in this column and you can find posters for all national, state, territorial and tribal nation winners here. Posters were judged on criteria set by the National Safety Council, Kansas State University, and Environmental Protection Agency, co-sponsors of the 2010 contest.

It’s important to get children involved early with simple messages. Some messages we stress through the Radon Poster contest are:

  • Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
  • Radon is a radioactive gas that can reach harmful levels if trapped indoors.
  • Radon comes from the soil underneath your home.
  • Radon causes lung cancer.

Simple messages to children inspire adults to take action. Our action message is clear, “Test. Fix. Save a life.” That is, test for radon in your home, school and other buildings; fix existing radon problems; and build new homes to be radon resistant.

Kansas State University’s National Radon Program will co-sponsor upcoming radon poster contests. Get involved! Promote the National Radon Poster Contest at your school. Organize a local awards ceremony to honor the winner selected by your school, community or state. Contact your state radon program to get started.

Children play key roles as messengers. They are our radon, and environmental, advocates of the future.

About the Author: Rebecca L. Reindel, MFS, is an Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow in the Indoor Environments Division, part of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. She is completing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the George Washington University. She holds a Master’s in Forensic Toxicology, has previously addressed workplace exposures for taxi drivers and is an instructor at GWU.

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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Community Action For Radon – An Important Step For Better Indoor Air Quality

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

While many people have heard of radon and some even know it is a carcinogen, not enough are taking action to reduce their risk. That’s why the EPA Radon program is working with others to improve public awareness and promote action. One example is the Radon Leadership Initiative, or RLI, developed by the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors, with EPA support.

The RLI is designed to engage communities at the grassroots level, to demonstrate results and mobilize leaders. Communities promote radon risk reduction locally and form coalitions with states and others organizations. With EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s support for stronger focus on community initiatives, it seems like good timing to kick off another project rooted in local action.

This first year, the RLI has four communities tackling radon exposure in creative ways to increase action through awareness, testing and building new homes with radon resistant new construction, or RRNC:

  • Maine Indoor Air Quality Council: train code officials and builders in RRNC code.
  • Southern Illinois Radon Awareness Task Force: recognize homeowners with radon systems and develop participation from local health professionals.
  • Minnesota State University-Mankato: train realtors on RRNC and improve quality and marketability of RRNC homes.
  • Kentucky Association of Radon Professionals: increase awareness through social marketing and the traveling T-shirt.

You can read more about Kentucky’s RLI program here.

The RLI is part of Radon Leaders Saving Lives, a campaign bringing together government, industry, non-profits and other groups to address radon exposure in communities of all shapes and sizes. The dialog on the campaign’s Web site has been truly impressive; we’ve always known that people who work with radon are passionate, but we now have proof! Check it out. This is also where you can track the progress of the four RLI programs throughout the year.

The RLI is one more innovative way to bring the radon message closer to home for many people. I’m curious how you first learned about radon and what you are doing to promote radon action locally. Please share your experience in the comments section below.

Remember… Test. Fix. Save a life.

About the author: Rebecca L. Reindel, MFS, is an Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow in the Indoor Environments Division, part of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. She is completing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the George Washington University. She holds a Master’s in Forensic Toxicology and has previously addressed workplace exposures for taxi drivers and was an instructor at GWU.

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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Helping Schools in Our Communities Create Healthy Learning Environments

My organization, the National Education Association (NEA), has partnered with EPA for over a decade to help education professionals organize and implement comprehensive indoor air quality (IAQ) management programs.

Now, why would an organization representing teachers and education support professionals care about IAQ or the IAQ Tools for Schools Program? It’s simple: we know that IAQ is important to the health of our members – individuals central to the schools in which they work and the communities in which they live. Our members can spend upward of twenty years in one school, making IAQ a vital component of their long-term health and, according to the latest research, their job performance. In addition, our members see how IAQ directly affects students, who aren’t yet able to advocate for themselves. Our members speak for them, too.

NEA education professionals have an obvious stake in advocating for IAQ management, but I want to tell you why you should become educated about IAQ and advocate for IAQ management in your community’s schools. In addition to the role that many of us play as parents or mentors of a student, there are many other reasons each of us has a direct interest in the health of our schools.

Schools are the hearts of our communities; they represent the values we hold. Surely, environmental management and stewardship should start there. We all have a stake in how schools are being managed. We invest in them every day through taxes; we should be sure our investments are used wisely. Not to mention, schools are where our future leaders are being educated.

Through its Health Information Network, NEA offers many resources to learn about IAQ. In fact, in January, 2010, an online training for school environmental quality will become available for anyone to access. Of course, EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Program is the definitive resource for school IAQ management. Encourage school leaders to download the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit and attend EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Symposium. These resources will help school leaders develop their knowledge and put it into action to ensure schools continue to be healthy environments for teaching and learning.

Please join me, NEA, EPA and your neighbors in advocating for your community’s health. Take action to improve IAQ in your schools.

About the author: Jennie Young is the Senior Program Coordinator for the National Education Association Health Information Network (NEAHIN). Since joining NEAHIN, Jennie has become a staunch advocate of IAQ management and an indispensable partner of EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Program.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.