You send your child to school expecting them to be in a safe, healthy and welcoming environment. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case.
There are no federal health standards for indoor air quality in schools, and a relaxing of environmental regulations under the current administration means that even more pollutants can be released into both indoor and outdoor environments. Additionally, school schedules may be costing kids valuable sleep, impacting their health. The public school system may be making kids sick, and here is why.
Why Indoor Air Quality Matters
Children spend six or more hours per day in school. Not only do they have to sit and take tests, but they also eat in the cafeteria and run and play in the gym. The indoor air quality in schools matters because breathing in dust, mold spores, particulates and other contaminants can trigger severe acute respiratory illnesses and chronic breathing problems, even in children who never had respiratory problems before going to school.
Indoor Air Quality Problems in Schools
There are many types of indoor air quality problems in America's public schools. Toxic mold is one of the leading problems. Leaks around roofs and windows allow moisture to seep into organic materials, such as ceiling tiles, wood floors and sheet rock. The result is an ideal environment where mold can grow. Old asbestos tiles, dust from renovations and disintegrating building materials contribute to the contaminated air.
Impact of Poor Indoor Air Quality on Children
Poor indoor air quality can have mild to severe impacts on children. A child who already has asthma has the highest risk for severe consequences when breathing in mold spores, other allergens and particulates. In an informal survey, one parent reported that their young child missed 53 days of school as a result of asthma attacks, developing pneumonia and a severe sinus infection after going to school in a classroom with mold growing on the ceiling and walls. In cities, the prevalence of asthma in children has grown rapidly, and experts think it's related to air pollution. In old city school buildings with poor maintenance, these children experience an exacerbation of their symptoms.
Causes of Poor Air Quality in Schools
There are many causes of poor air quality in schools. Windows are typically sealed shut or can only open a few inches due to safety reasons. Budget cuts in many school districts have forced the delay of essential maintenance, resulting in roofs that leak, windows that leak and dysfunctional or broken heating, cooling and ventilation systems. Cuts have also been made to custodial staff who are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the inside of schools.
Who Else Is At Risk
Kids are not the only people at risk of respiratory problems and illnesses due to mold and other contaminants in schools. The teachers and staff are also at risk. Teachers spend eight or more hours every day in these same school buildings. Administrators, cafeteria workers, custodians, teacher's aides and other adults could also be at risk of serious illnesses and chronic breathing problems.
Tough Solutions for Big Problems
The most effective solution to indoor air quality problems in schools is to ensure that the facilities get the maintenance they need. Unfortunately, this requires a lot of money. Few people want their taxes to go up. Some families are homeschooling in order to get their kids out of contaminated schools.