School facility managers and indoor air quality (IAQ) specialists have spent the past few months strategizing on methods to improve IAQ in schools. Andy Lu, North America general manager of Blueair, attended Allergy & Asthma Day in Washington, D.C., in May to meet with members of Congress on issues related to air purifier industry standards and legislation combatting poor IAQ.
The Biden Administration has put together a Building Better School Infrastructure (BBSI) action plan with the goal of upgrading public schools with modern, clean, and energy-efficient facilities and transportation. Lu said he agrees with the White House’s view that current, outdated HVAC systems in schools expose students and teachers to contaminants that can trigger allergies, asthma attacks, or infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Provisions included in the BBSI action plan are funded through the American Rescue Plan, put in place to support COVID-19 policies. However, Lu believes that measures should extend beyond COVID-19 relief packages. “Congress should pass a permanent law that gives public schools access to resources to help improve indoor air quality, including the implementation of air quality standards in U.S. public schools,” he said. “Furthermore, guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on where schools can be built should be more strictly enforced by states.”
Until more resources are available to all schools, facility managers can take matters into their own hands to protect the health of students. Lu offers the following tips to improve IAQ in schools:
- Make sure that the school’s ventilation system is in good working order and that filter replacement and cleaning occurs on a regular basis.
- Open windows if you can. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than the air outdoors.
- Vacuum frequently and wash textiles regularly.
- Reduce or remove carpets because they trap harmful particles and allergens including bacteria, mold, pollen, and dust mites.
- Avoid unnecessary chemicals; use natural cleaning products instead.
- Ensure that building materials, paints, and soaps don’t contain formaldehyde, phthalates, or triclosan.
- Consider indoor plants, such as English ivy and peace lilies, which help eliminate airborne pollutants.
- Avoid plastic materials which release tiny plastic particles that children can inhale.
- Implement car-free areas around the campus and don’t allow idling of vehicles near the school.
- Consider placing high-performing air purifiers, rated to remove 99.97% of dust, bacteria, viruses, and other common air pollutants, in the classrooms.