I’ve never questioned that good indoor air quality in schools is critical to the success and health of our students and teachers. In addition to the health effects, students and staff that are exposed to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) experience decreased performance and diminished concentration levels. That’s why, as part of the Jicarilla Apache Nation Environmental Protection Office, I’ve been working with schools to improve their indoor air since 1995. Truthfully, we initially had mixed success. It was difficult to communicate to every school group why indoor air quality was important – from custodians to teachers to principals, everyone valued something different. So in 2000, when we heard about the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program and that it offered a framework for schools to do just that, we were on board. We didn’t know if the guidance would help us, but thankfully it did.
Over the past nine years, we’ve had a lot of successes. We were able to get everyone in our schools advocating for healthy indoor air quality and convinced them that by using a systematic approach, and ready-made checklists and resources, they could lead this effort. I’d like to share a couple of our stories that show just how much a comprehensive program can make a difference.
The first story is short, but it packs a lot of punch. Not long after we met with teachers for a formal IAQ training, we received a report from a teacher who was concerned that her classroom was making her and her students sick. When we investigated the room, we discovered a major mold problem. Following remediation guidance, we were able to clean up the mold and the teacher and students were able to enjoy a safe and healthy learning environment once again.
The second story revolves around radon, another important component of an IAQ management program. As part of our comprehensive IAQ effort, we conducted radon testing in all of our schools. At the Dulce Middle School, we discovered levels well above EPA’s action level of 4 pCi/L and undertook five distinct mitigation projects to guarantee low levels of radon. In the end, our mitigation effort was successful, but it took a lot of work, time and money.
I encourage anyone who works with schools, in schools, or for schools to take these stories to heart and advocate for an IAQ management program. You will make a difference. Start with the EPA guidance and if you can, attend the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Symposium – a premier event that helps brings this guidance to life.
About the Author: Pauline Electric-Warrior is a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. She works in the Environmental Protection Office of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Dulce, New Mexico.