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Take Action to Improve Indoor Air Quality in Schools

In 2014, the National Center for Educations Statistics surveyed a sample of school districts and estimated that the average age of the nation’s main school buildings was 55 years old – putting the average date of construction for our nation’s schools at 1959. Additionally. nearly one-fourth of the nation’s schools have one or more buildings in need of extensive repair or replacement and nearly half have been reported to have problems related to indoor air quality (IAQ).

The health and comfort of students and teachers are among the many factors that contribute to learning and productivity in the classroom, which in turn affect performance and achievement. EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit will help ensure good indoor air quality in your school. Providing a healthy, comfortable environment is an investment in your students and staff. Failure to respond promptly and effectively to poor indoor air quality in schools can lead to severe consequences. These may include an increase in short- and long-term health problems costly repairs, potential liability problems and greater risk that schools will need to close and temporarily relocate staff and students.

On this page:

What Actions Can You Take to Improve Your School's Indoor Air Quality?

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Facility Managers

Create a Healthy Indoor Environment

Facility managers in K-12 schools work hard every day to ensure a healthy, high-quality learning and teaching environment for students and staff.  Your goal is to provide energy-efficient facilities that have quality lighting, comfortable temperatures, and good indoor air quality (IAQ) — all within a tight budget. The U.S. EPA's Indoor Environments Division provides technical guidance on how to maintain and operate your school facility by using integrated, whole-building approaches which are designed to protect occupant health while saving energy and money.

We are pleased to see IAQ Tools for Schools being embraced by school systems around the country.  It is an important part of our efforts to create and sustain asthma-friendly schools.– Katherine Pruitt, American Lung Association

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average school building is 42 years old.  After 40 years a school building begins to rapidly deteriorate if it is not properly maintained.  EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit is designed to provide you with the tools and information needed to fix and prevent IAQ problems and maintain a healthy indoor environment with minimal effort and cost.

Taking a proactive approach to preventing IAQ problems will save your school significant costs in the long run.  With everyone working together, you may also be able to reduce the amount of time you currently spend on IAQ issues.

Negative Impact of Poor Indoor Air Quality 

  • Accelerate deterioration and reduce efficiency of the school's physical plant and equipment
  • Affect student comfort, the learning environment and attendance
  • Increase the likelihood that schools will have to be closed temporarily (for repairs) or permanently
  • Lead to costly repairs if maintenance and proactive measures are deferred.  Preventative measures will save money over time.
  • Reduce the productivity of teachers and staff due to discomfort, sickness or absenteeism
  • Increase the potential for long-term health problems among students and staff
  • Strain the relationship between administrators and facilities staff

The IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit should be an essential part of every facility manager's library, serving as a daily reference guide and management tool.

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School Officials

School officials interact with all members of the school community, including:

  • building staff
  • administrative staff
  • teachers
  • students
  • parents
  • local government officials
  • many others 

That puts them in an ideal position to be leaders and share basic information about creating healthy indoor school environments, including managing indoor air quality, or IAQ, with everyone who can work to make a difference. Maintaining good IAQ requires a coordinated management approach that provides for building occupant education and establishes some routine inspection and maintenance policies.

IAQ management was never a question, it was an answer. It supports the health of our students, so they can attend school and meet their full potential. It supports the health of our staff, without whom educating students is impossible. Finally, it helps me as an administrator run a more efficient school district, where I can stretch my budget further and channel limited resources where they are needed most: in the classroom. — Richard Middleton, Formner Superintendent of Schools, North East Independent School District, Texas

Failure to address poor indoor air quality can:

  • Result in an unfavorable learning environment for students, reduce the performance and effectiveness of teachers and staff and increase absenteeism
  • Generate negative publicity that can damage the school's and administration's image and effectiveness
  • Strain relationships among parents, teachers and the school administration
  • Create liability problems
  • Accelerate the deterioration and reduce the efficiency of the school's physical plant and equipment

Top Actions School Officials Can Take to Address IAQ

  • Understand the effects of poor IAQ on student and staff productivity and health
  • Support and promote a district-wide IAQ management program through policies and plans
    • Read case studies about how other districts have implemented sustainable IAQ management programs
  • According to the School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS), in 2012, 47.7% of school districts had an indoor air quality management program. Among the districts with a program, 82.3% based their program on EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools guidance.
  • School Official's IAQ Backgrounder
  • School Official's Checklist

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Teachers, Staff and Health Professionals

The air quality inside your school affects the health and comfort of every student and staff member. EPA's Science Advisory Board consistently ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health. Poor indoor air quality is about more than just comfort. It can cause or contribute to short- and long-term health problems, including:

  • asthma
  • respiratory tract infection and disease
  • allergic reactions
  • headaches
  • nasal congestion
  • eye and skin irritations
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • nausea

Teachers can be powerful advocates for creating healthy indoor environments, including improving school indoor air quality. As they are on the front lines, teachers can perceive when IAQ changes affect students and themselves. By being involved in creating a clean and healthy learning environment, teachers can promote health, wellness and academic productivity.

As a school-based health professional — district health officer, nurse, hygienist, or dietician — you are responsible for the health and well-being of staff and students. School nurses, in particular, play a primary role in the early detection of an IAQ problem when observing children who are sick. Illness due to poor IAQ may not, however, produce easily recognizable symptoms. If multiple pollutants are involved, tracing the causes of the student's discomfort or illness will be your challenge.

Improving IAQ can reduce the number of student visits to the nurse's office, reduce absenteeism due to illness, and enhance the general health and well-being of all students and staff.

Top Actions Teachers Staff and Health Professionals Can Take to Address Indoor Air Quality

  • Keep ventilation units in classrooms free of clutter
  • Report any IAQ issues and maintenance problems occurring in classrooms and hallways immediately
  • If classroom pets cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma attacks, either relocate the pet away from sensitive students or consider replacing the animal with a classroom fish or an animal that will not trigger allergy and asthma attacks in any students. Some school districts have policies that ban pets with fur or feathers
  • Reduce the number of items made of cloth in your classroom, including furniture, draperies or stuffed animals. These materials attract dust mites, which can negatively impact sensitive students
  • Practice chemical management in your classrooms, if appropriate
  • Understand the effects of poor IAQ on student and staff productivity and health

EPA Resources for Teachers Staff and Health Professionals

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Parents and Students

School-aged children spend a great deal of time inside school buildings. Parents can play an important role in creating healthy indoor school environments. Parents and students alike can make a powerful case for protecting health in schools.

Tell-Tale Signs that Your Child's Complaints are IAQ-Related

  • Health complaints are associated with particular times of the day or week.
  • Other occupants in the same area experience similar problems.
  • Health complaints end when the child leaves the building and recur when the child returns.
  • The school has recently been renovated or refurnished.
  • The child has recently begun working with new or different materials or equipment at school.
  • New cleaning or pesticide products or practices have been introduced into the school.
  • Smoking is allowed in the school.
  • A new warm-blooded animal has been introduced into the classroom.

Top Actions Parents and Students Can Take to Address IAQ

  • Learn how to effectively communicate with school officials and teachers.
  • Participate in your school's IAQ committee.
  • If your child has asthma, you can take steps to reduce their risk of exposure to environmental asthma triggers in schools. Communicate what you know with your child's school teachers and nurses and be sure your child has an Asthma Action Plan (in English y Español) at school.

EPA Resources for Parents and Students