Environmental Permitting

Impacts of Indoor Air Quality in Schools

Impacts of Indoor Air Quality in Schools

As older school buildings are replaced, renovated, or retrofitted with new equipment, there is the opportunity to make changes that will both improve IAQ for students and teachers and increase energy efficiency. Taken together, these improvements can have substantial benefits from a health and business perspective. In the new guidance document titled, Energy Savings Plus Health: Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for School Building Upgrades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a sound basis for considering investing in IAQ and energy efficiency for the long-term.

From the IAQ side, the EPA says studies conducted in schools showed that students’ health and academic performance both improved when ventilation rates were increased. Citing a European study, the EPA noted that “a doubling of the ventilation rate from about 7.5 cubic feet per minute per person (cfm/person) to 15 cfm/person improved speed of academic performance by about 8 percent.” Similarly, a U.S. study performed in the fifth-grade classrooms at 100 schools showed students’ performance on standardized tests improved nearly 3 percent “in the proportion of students passing standardized math and reading tests for each 2 cfm/person increase in ventilation rate across the range of 2 to 15 cfm/person.”

According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) available scientific literature on the subject of ventilation and student performance “indicates the potential for 5% to 10% increases in aspects of student performance and moderately higher pass rates in standardized math and reading tests with increased classroom ventilation rates.” Considering that LBNL also notes that ventilation rates in about one half of U.S. public elementary schools “appear to be less than specified in codes” the overall potential for improving student performance with better ventilation could be “substantial.”

Forget expensive calls to lawyers and consultants. With Enviro.BLR.com, you get instant access, 24/7. Try it out today and get the 2015 EHS Salary Guide, absolutely free. Download Now.

Looking at student health, the EPA cites a 2013 study that revealed for each 2.1 cfm/person increase in the ventilation rate, on average students’ absentee and illness rates decreased by 1.6 percent. This is particularly important for school districts where government funding is tied to student attendance and could actually help provide additional revenue for schools.

IAQ also includes air temperature, and the LBNL says studies conducted as long ago as the 1950s and 1960s showed student performance was better in classrooms with heating and cooling, compared to classrooms without such “thermal conditioning.” This was backed up by a 2006 study that showed that based  on monitoring of eight simulated work tasks, the average speed of completed academic work “decreased by approximately 1 percent per each 1°F as temperatures increased from 68°F to 77°F.”

Other IAQ implications can include indoor and outdoor contamination from a wide variety of chemicals and materials. In particular, the LBNL says volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) are implicated in a number of human health problems, including sensory irritation, respiratory problems like allergies and asthma, and cancer.  VOCs can be emitted by many seemingly benign products like building materials, furniture, office equipment, personal care products, air fresheners, and pesticides as well as from combustion activities like smoking, burning wood or kerosene, and using gas stoves. Sources of SVOCs may include pesticides, items containing flame retardants, and materials like vinyl wallpaper or flooring that contain flexible plastics.

Everything You Need for Environmental Compliance

Enviro.BLR.com puts everything you need at your fingertips, including practical RCRA, CAA, CWA, hazardous waste regulatory analysis and activity, news, and compliance tools. Try it at no cost or risk and get a FREE report.

Knowing these and other benefits of improved IAQ, the EPA says the “Cost savings from energy efficiency and IAQ integration can be significant and easy to achieve.” In fact, one report that reviewed 30 green schools* concluded that while the schools cost on average 2% more than conventional schools, the financial benefits were about 20% greater than those additional costs.

*Defined as “new schools based on either the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, the Massachusetts Collaborative for High Performance Schools, or the Washington State Sustainable School Protocol for High Performance Facilities.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.