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EPA, Schools and Communities Work Together to Reduce Asthma

2014 May 5

Reposted from It’s Our Environment

By Dr. Teresa Lipsett-Ruiz

Visitors to Puerto Rico often come to bask in the island’s warmth and waves. But, our tropical environment also contributes to the asthma problem that affects about 1 in 10 people here.

In close partnership with EPA, our university-based indoor air quality program builds partnerships with students, schools and the community to improve the environmental conditions in schools and reduce student absences caused by asthma. It has worked!  Over the past 6 years, the schools that we’ve worked with have seen significant decreases in the number of missed school days.

Mountainous areas such as the Puerto Rican municipalities of Caguas and Gurabo are surrounded by humid valleys known as “asthma hotspots,” yet asthma education is not always available there. In response, we created a program with EPA that focuses on three key elements: (1) information resources and checklists, (2) school “walkthroughs,” and (3) partnerships with school officials and the community to physically remove indoor environmental asthma triggers.

Our program relies on EPA’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools guidance and Spanish-language indoor checklists to educate the community and schools on managing environmental asthma triggers. Working with the Puerto Rico Department of Education, we hold IAQ Workshops on asthma triggers.

During school walkthroughs, we often find pest problems—cockroaches, rats and mice—as well as moldy, wet cardboard boxes overflowing with paper. We then formulate a plan to address these asthma triggers.

At first, some teachers were skeptical. They were worried that this was another burden piled onto their busy schedules. Enthusiasm grew, however, when the students and the community began to help. As the old saying goes, “many hands make light work.” The school community came together for a “mega green cleaning” of the school. To check our effectiveness, we collected mold samples before and after our plans were put in place and mold counts dropped significantly.

With the support of school officials, we implemented our program at 32 schools, which resulted in a 38 percent reduction in student absenteeism due to asthma. Based on these impressive results, we now are expanding the program in partnership with EPA. To learn more, listen to my presentation in EPA’s Back-to-School Webinar: Managing Asthma in Schools. Our communities are proud to have improved both their health and student attendance. We invite you to pursue similar programs in your schools and community.

Dr. Lipsett-Ruiz is the Dean of the School of Science and Technology in Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. Her partnership with EPA has trained more than 150 teachers in 100 schools on practical steps to asthma management. The program leverages school clubs, blogs, conferences, theatre play, and role modeling exercises, along with EPA information resources to reduce student absenteeism due to asthma.

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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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Mackenzie Carpenter permalink
    May 14, 2014

    Asthma seems to be a big problem across the United States. As a teenager who suffers from asthma I think it is wonderful that the EPA is coming in and trying to reduce the amount of kids who have asthma in Puerto Rico. I would much rather spend my taxpayer money on reducing asthma rates than funding some unnecessary government project. There are so many “sick” schools across the United States and I think it is time that we go in and fix the indoor air quality of these buildings. I also believe that the indoor air quality standards should be raised because this study shows that their is a direct correlation between indoor air quality levels and human health.

  2. Lea Howell permalink
    May 19, 2014

    I think that this is fantastic! It’s a shame for any child to miss school because of something like air quality that can be improved with a little work. The fact that the community came together and made a group effort shows just how powerful a difference people can make when they truly care about something. If only all environmental issues were handled that way! I hope that this program continues because it has only proved to do great things so far!

  3. Madison Ringer permalink
    May 21, 2014

    I never realized how big of a deal asthma was. Around where I live, asthma isn’t very common, my brother had asthma but it was only sports induced. I think that it’s great what y’all are doing for these children! It would be terrible for them to have to miss school because of an asthma problem that could easily be taken care of. I hope that y’all get to continue to help people with this problem.

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