Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools
Why is 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 avoided 1. 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 laws (§123B.595 & 124E.03) require public schools have health and safety programs that comply with health, safety, and environmental regulations and best practices including indoor air quality management. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recommends 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.
What is an effective IAQ Management Plan?
An IAQ Management Plan is a district specific set of policies and procedures established to maintain and improve indoor air quality that is coordinated by an IAQ Coordinator.
An IAQ Management Plan must include the following.
- An appointed IAQ Coordinator whom is:
- based in the school or spends most of his/her time there
- capable of answering parent's basic questions
- authorized to receive and respond to complaints
- fulfills a separate role from maintenance (health and safety oriented)
- A written set of policies that are:
- operational and implemented
- school board adopted
- updated yearly
There are recommended assessments and policies school staff should consider beyond these requirements. 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. IAQ Management Plans may also refer to or summarize other policies that assist in maintaining air quality within school buildings, such as an Integrated Pest Management program, or the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) management plan.
What is the MDH doing to help schools develop IAQ Management Plans?
MDH has offered several annual trainings and other classes when requested. Training announcements are posted on the MDH school IAQ website. These trainings introduce general IAQ principles, 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. It 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, radon, and other IAQ topics. MDH has developed various guidance documents.
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.
What actions can I take today to improve 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. Listed below are some simple actions that can make an immediate difference.
- IAQ Actions for Facility Operators
- IAQ Actions for School Administrators and School Board Members
- IAQ Actions for Teachers and Other Staff
- IAQ Actions for Parents
2 Adapted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Actions to Improve Indoor Air Quality" EPA 402-F-99-008.