IAQ Actions for Facility Operators
Every member of the school community plays a role in monitoring and improving indoor air quality (IAQ) in your school. 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. Listed below are some simple actions that can make an immediate difference.
*Adapted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s "Actions to Improve Indoor Air Quality" EPA 402-F-99-008.
Much of the responsibility to maintain and improve IAQ rests on the shoulders of the facility operators. Public school districts in Minnesota are required by law to have a comprehensive IAQ Management Plan that monitors and improves IAQ (for details, see the Model IAQ Plan in Schools). Developing such a comprehensive Plan is time consuming. However, there are some simple things you can do that can both make an immediate difference and be counted as part of your IAQ Plan.
Clean Filters: The filters in your building’s ventilation system remove particulates, but when excessively dirty, they can increase energy costs.
- Check the filters in the air-handling units to see that they are clean, fitted tightly, and have the appropriate filtering efficiency.
- Replace the filter more often if it seems very dirty.
- Contact the manufacturer or equipment manual to see if the filters’ meet equipment specifications.
Air Intakes and Air Return Vents
- Check that pollutant sources (such as idling vehicle emissions, garbage, and plumbing and furnace exhausts) are at least 30 feet away from air intakes.
- Implement the law on limiting the idling of school buses (see: School bus retrofits and idle reduction and Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 123B.885 Diesel School Buses; Operation of Engine; Parking)
- Make sure that air intakes are not blocked and dampers are fully operable.
- Make sure chemicals and pets are not housed near return air vents.
Make Minor Repairs
- Repair the air handling unit(s), replace or repair broken parts, such as torn belts, broken dampers, cracked drain pipes, blocked air intakes, etc.
- Check that air is being delivered to rooms by holding tissue paper up to delivery vents.
- Check for exhaust fans or robust ventilation in rooms with photocopiers and other chemical producing equipment—such equipment should be located away from occupants.
- Make sure louvers in doors and other building structures are not covered or blocked.
- Consider allowing several air exchanges before areas become occupied, to reduce possible contaminant levels.
- Check the rooms that house ventilation equipment and the accessible areas of the air-handling unit(s)—there should be no standing water or stored chemicals, and minimal amounts or dirt and other debris.
- Check the local exhaust systems (kitchens, bathrooms, art, shop, science classes, housekeeping storage, etc.) using tissue paper or smoke testing, to assure air is being exhausted to the outside.
- Make all staff aware that moisture problems (such as spills and leaks) should be reported immediately.
- Dry or replace moisture damage materials within 48 hours, to prevent mold growth.
- Leave a couple of inches of space between furniture and walls, to allow air circulation and prevent moisture accumulation.
- Cut back trees and shrubs that are touching walls.
- If you find mold, remove it--replace the material or clean hard surfaces with non-ammonia based detergent. Do not spray bleach on mold! You need to physically remove the mold. Follow MDH's guidance on mold investigation and remediation: Recommended Best Practices for Mold Investigations in Minnesota Schools (PDF). Staff that clean mold should wear personal protection including, at a minimum, an N-95 rated respirator, gloves, and goggles.
- Identify a moisture restoration company that can quickly respond to water events (flood, burst pipes), including weekends and holidays.
Cleaning and Chemicals
- Check your storage closets to see that they are secure, cleaning chemicals are capped tightly, and that only chemicals that are truly necessary are stored and used.
- Consider purchasing cleaning products that emit lower levels of volatile organic compounds, such as environmentally preferable products like Green Seal. This could reduce staff and student complaints.
- Talk to maintenance staff to see what areas need be cleaned more often, and what areas can be cleaned less frequently.
- Try to vacuum carpets daily, especially in heavy use areas.
- If feasible, purchase vacuum cleaners effective at capturing fine particles, such as High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter vacuum cleaners.
- Do as much cleaning as possible when the building is unoccupied. For example, wax floors on Friday afternoons.
- Avoid using aerosol sprays--they produce fine mists that may cause health problems.
- Avoid dry sweeping or dusting—this simply redistributes dust. Instead, clean hard surfaces with a damp cloth or microfiber mop.
- Minimize the amount of fleecy materials (such as curtain and fabric partitions) and clutter (such as papers and boxes) in classrooms that may collect and release pollutants. Clutter also makes general cleaning more difficult.
- Check that the drain traps are filled with water—dried traps can allow sewer gases to enter rooms.
Walk-off Mats. Walk-off mats remove dirt and moisture that would otherwise be tracked into buildings, which might lead to mold growth and dustiness.
- Check that there are walk-off mats at every entrance
- Check that surfaces under the mats are clean (not wet or moldy).
- Make sure that they are effective at removing dirt and moisture-they should be at least three steps long.
- Consider landscaping that minimizes dirt and moisture in front of building entrances.
To address specific problems that emerge, use problem-solving tools in the IAQ Management Plan Development Package. Useful tools from the Model IAQ Plan are: