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One of the first steps to making indoor air quality improvements is to understand why indoor air quality is such an important issue for schools. Learn more about asthma, IAQ, and how they affect learning.

If you want to know more or have questions, EPA expert Shelly Rosenblum will answer your questions.

  • Most of us know someone who suffers from asthma, but what is it exactly and how does it affect studentsHAHK_Learn_More_Asthma and teachers?  We know that we can make school healthier for asthmatic students and a school that is healthier for children with asthma is healthier for everyone.
    What is asthma?
    • Asthma is a chronic, life-long respiratory disease that causes breathing problems due to inflammation of the airways in the lungs.
    • Currently, it cannot be cured but it can be managed.
    • Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.

    What causes asthma?
    • Heredity, allergies, and environmental pollution play a role in the development of the disease.
    • Environmental asthma triggers indoors include dust, pollen, furry or feathered pets, strong odors, mold, fragrances, chemicals and cigarette smoke.

    Who gets asthma?
    • Anyone can get asthma at any age.
    • One out of six California children under the age of 18 has been diagnosed with asthma.

    How does asthma disproportionately impact low-income children and communities of color?
    • In California, hospitalization rates are more than 3 times higher for African American children than white children.
    • Latino children are hospitalized at a rate 10% greater than white children.
    • Children in low-income families are more likely to have been diagnosed with asthma.
    • Higher rates of asthma may be due to limited access to health care, poor housing and school conditions, geographic density in areas with poor air quality and cultural and linguistic barriers.

    How does asthma impact learning?
    • Asthma is the number one cause of student absences due to chronic disease.
    • Nationwide, approximately 14 million school days are missed due to asthma every year.
    • In California, the average child with asthma misses 2.6 days of instruction per year.
    • Students with asthma who miss school not only miss instruction but social interactions with other children.
    • Asthma disrupts sleep and needed asthma medication may reduce students’ ability to concentrate.

    Can symptoms be prevented?
    • Asthma in schools can be minimized and controlled by reducing asthma triggers in the classroom.
    • Teachers should communicate with students, the school nurse and parents to increase awareness of asthma triggers and knowledge of student asthma management plans.

Indoor Air Quality
The quality of the air inside a room is not regulated like outside air.  It is up to us to understand the affects of poor indoor air quality Learn_More_IAQand take steps to improve it.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that levels of air pollution indoors can be 2-5 times and sometimes 100 times higher than outside levels.
What is indoor air quality?
  • The condition of the indoor air, including temperature and humidity, which affects the occupant’s health, comfort and sense of well-being.
  • The levels of indoor airborne pollutants, as well as the adequacy of the ventilation which removes or dilutes these contaminants.
  • People vary widely in their sensitivity to pollutants.  The less we add to the air the better.

Why are children particularly vulnerable to poor indoor air quality?
  • Children are not little adults and have developing bodies with narrower airways and faster respiration.
  • Pound per pound, children inhale more pollutants than adults.
  • Some harm from pollutants can be long-lasting or permanent.

Why should we be concerned about indoor air quality in schools?
  • Approximately one in five Americans, both adults and children, work or are in school facilities 6-8 hours every day.
  • According to the National Education Association, more than 1/3 of America’s school buildings have serious environmental issues.
  • A nationwide survey of school facilities found that California ranked last, having more unsatisfactory environmental conditions in schools than any other state.

What factors impact air quality?
  • Pollutants can include gasses from chemicals, like cleaning products, solvents, building and furniture finishes, pesticides and fragrances; small particles, like dust, pollen and mold spores, and diesel exhaust; combustion gasses, like carbon monoxide; and more.
  • A 2003 California Air Resources Board report found that substantial amounts of outdoor air were measured in classrooms during 40% of class hours.
  • High concentrations of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds have been found in both traditional and portable classrooms in California.
  • A 1995 study by the California Energy Commission found that 1/3 of the schools surveyed had ventilation rates that were less than half the level required by state regulations.

Are there solutions?
YES! The Healthy Air, Healthy Kids project works with project partners including the Community Action to Fight Asthma network and the U.S. EPA, Region 9 to help teachers, associations and district staff work collaboratively to promote better indoor air quality practices and policies in schools. To learn about the easy steps you can take to improve IAQ, check out the Healthy Air, Healthy Kids resources.

Asthma, IAQ, and Your School
Poor indoor air quality affects the ability of teachers to teach and children to learn.IAQ_and_Your_School
What is the impact of poor indoor air quality on learning?
  • Poor classroom ventilation causes a buildup of indoor pollutants that can cause headaches, drowsiness and inability to concentrate.
  • Classroom temperature, humidity and ventilation have a direct impact on speed of performance and learning.
  • Studies show that temperature and humidity can degrade teachers’ ability to teach and their morale.
  • A UCLA study demonstrated a different between student achievement in poorly maintained buildings and those in better facilities - as much as 17 percentage points.
  • Teachers and children with asthma and allergies may be on medication, have disrupted sleep, and have less energy to participate in school activities.
What are the impacts of improved indoor air quality on learning?
  • Teaching and learning are improved in a healthier environment.  With increased comfort, the ability to concentrate improves and school performance is enhanced.
  • When IAQ improves, there are decreases in asthma and allergy symptoms, respiratory and sinus infections, and visits to the school nurse.
  • Increased school revenue and learning due to increased attendance.  There was an estimated loss of $40.8 million to California schools from preventable student absences due to asthma in 2001 alone, not including lost teacher workdays and productivity.
  • Data from the U.S. EPS’s 2002 Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Practices in School Survey indicates that schools with an IAQ management program supported by school administration and implemented by an IAQ Coordinator may expect to realize improvements in workplace satisfaction, decreased asthma episodes, increased attendance, and other measures of school performance.