STAMFORD, Conn. – “Indoor air quality has a lot to do with children’s health, and adults’ health, for that matter,” according to EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, in the introduction to an EPA kit aimed at raising awareness about bad air quality in schools.

High carbon dioxide levels, mold, chemicals from inside and outside sources, pollen, dust and dirt are all factors that contribute to poor indoor air quality. And building design, choice of materials and school heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems play an important role in controlling it.

Hazardous air in schools is a serious problem that the EPA wants parents and schools around the United States to wake up to. It’s a subject that just hasn’t gotten enough attention up until now. According to EPA studies, indoor pollutant levels can be two to five times higher—and on occasion up to 100 times higher—than outdoor levels. And an estimated 50% of American schools have hazardous levels of indoor pollution. This is all the more distressing in light of the fact that each day one in five Americans occupies a school building.

The EPA isn’t alone in focusing on indoor air quality. The American Lung Association and the American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) are concerned, too. In its newly released indoor air quality position statement, ASHRAE states that building energy efficiency and indoor air quality should be considered simultaneously and reaffirmed that its standards should and do consider health impacts when setting criteria for acceptable indoor air quality.

Lars E.W. Nilsson, president of Lindab, Inc., a worldwide manufacturer of hvac duct systems says, “We want people to know that the right kind of ventilation system can help solve air quality problems in schools. When the proper system is installed and maintained, fresh air can get where it’s going, contaminants and moisture are kept out, and heating and air conditioning costs in schools can stay low.”

Improving duct performance

Indoor air pollution is just starting to get the attention it deserves in the U.S., according to Nilsson. But it has been a concern overseas for a long time. In Europe, where indoor air quality has been on the social and political agendas for years, industry has responded by improving system design and product performance.

In a recent segment on hazardous indoor air pollution, CNN anchor Stephen Frazier compared it to drugs and violence on school grounds and called it “another threat now in American schools.”

“We see more students in the health room. We see more staff not feeling well,” says Becky Hudlow of the National Association of School Nurses in the CNN report aired this August.

Although not alone, children are most susceptible to the effects of bad air quality. And it has far reaching consequences for both their health and their capacity to learn. Asthma, for example, has reached epidemic proportions in the US. Nearly 1 in 13 school-aged children has asthma. The American Lung Association says that short-term exposure to indoor air pollution may cause immediate effects like dizziness, headaches and allergies. What’s worse, long term exposure can lead to illnesses like respiratory and heart disease.

There’s also documented evidence that poor indoor air quality reduces the ability to perform mental tasks. In one recent European study, students scored low on concentration tests and had high health symptom responses when carbon dioxide levels were elevated because of poor ventilation.

In a fact sheet about indoor air quality, the EPA points out that failure to prevent or take prompt action can have severe consequences that include increased health problems for students and staff, higher absenteeism, reduced productivity and even potential liability problems.

The EPA recently sent out 30,000 Indoor Air Quality for Schools Kits to schools nationwide as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the problem of indoor air quality in schools and encourage people to take action. The kit is co-sponsored by the national PTA, the National Education Association, the Council for American Private Education, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Lung Association.

In the introduction to the kit the EPA’s Christine Todd Whitman says, “Hopefully a result of the campaign is that parents will become more concerned about the indoor air to which their child is exposed. A large part of that is going to be in the school. A child’s day is, as they reach school age, divided between the home and the school and those are two areas where we need to be very sensitive to the quality of the air. And parents should be asking questions about the quality of air in their local schools.”

Among other things, the kit includes information about designing schools to minimize indoor air pollution and about sources of indoor air pollution. olluted outdoor air, problems in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and indoor sources are some of the areas dealt with in the EPA kit.

Mold, dust, not enough air, dirt, circulating chemicals. School ventilation systems directly impact all of these things. They in turn impact air quality in schools.

Lindab, Inc. manufactures and markets round duct systems that are easy to clean. The SPIROsafe® duct system is also designed to be very tight so that contaminants can be kept out of ventilation systems, and it even comes with a tightness guarantee.