Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools

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Why is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools Important?

"Indoor levels of air pollutants can be 2-5 times higher, and occasionally 100 times higher, than outdoor levels. Nearly 55 million people, 20 percent of the U.S. population, spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools. According to a 1995 federal government report, an estimated 50 percent of the nation’s schools have problems linked to poor indoor air quality." 1

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), IAQ is important for health, economic, and legal reasons. Indoor air pollutants can cause discomfort and reduce school attendance and productivity. Moreover, they 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 and nausea.”1 Poor indoor air quality can hasten building deterioration. One study of an elementary school showed that if $8,140 had been spent over 22 years on preventive maintenance, $1.5 million in repairs could have been avoided1. In addition, poor indoor air quality can contribute to the closing of schools, create liability problems, and strain relationships among parents, teachers, and the school administration.

Minnesota law (§123B.57) requires public school districts to adopt a plan to monitor and improve indoor air quality. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has adopted the USEPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program as the basis for an effective IAQ Management Plan.

1 United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools: Actions to Improve Indoor Air Quality". Publication # 402-F-99-008. September 1999.

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What is an effective IAQ Management Plan?

An effective IAQ Management Plan is a comprehensive, district specific set of policies and procedures established to maintain and improve indoor air quality. An effective IAQ Management Plan must include:

  • an on-site certified IAQ Coordinator;
  • an overall evaluation (walkthrough) performed on all school district buildings;
  • the evaluation of specific building systems (classrooms, ventilation system, maintenance operations), using checklists or a comparable method;
  • a written set of policies and schedules that describes ways to correct the identified IAQ problems, prevent future problems, and respond to emergencies and concerns;
  • an annual review of the plan, including school board approval.

An effective IAQ Management Plan is designed to meet the goals and needs of a specific school district. Expectations of an IAQ Management Plan must be realistic and manageable so that commitment from the school board, the administration, and staff can be achieved. Effective IAQ Management Plans may also refer to other written programs that could assist in maintaining good air quality within school buildings, such as an Integrated Pest Management program, or the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) management plan.

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What is the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Doing to Help Schools Develop IAQ Management Plans?

MDH in collaboration with MDE has offered several annual trainings. Training announcements are posted on the MDH school IAQ website. These trainings provide USEPA Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools materials, introduce general IAQ principals, describe common problems and solutions, and present the procedures for developing an IAQ Management Plan.

MDH has created an IAQ Management Plan Development Package, which includes instructions to develop a plan, links to EPA checklists, a Model IAQ Management Plan, and other information. This Model Plan covers the MN requirements for an effective and district-specific management plan, and draws on information from existing plans for Minnesota schools, the Tools for Schools program, and other published resources.

MDH is also actively involved in providing practical and scientifically sound information on mold, asthma triggers and other IAQ topics and its proper remediation in schools. MDH has developed various guidance documents for mold investigation, mold remediation, and the management of environmental asthma triggers.

Finally, school officials, including charter and non-public schools may request technical (not financial) assistance from MDH. Contact the MDH Indoor Air Unit for more information.

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What Actions Can I Take Today to Improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in My School2?

Every member of the school community plays a role in monitoring and improving air quality in school buildings. By becoming IAQ-conscious and taking some simple actions, you can make a real impact on the health and productivity of all members of the school. Click below to see some simple actions that can make an immediate difference.

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Updated Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 10:37AM