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Indoor air quality in schools has a significant effect on students’ health. Schools offer a key indoor environment for students away or besides their home environment since they spend over ten hours per day at school. Since students spend many hours in schools, the issue of indoor air quality is of great significance and it should be handled with care (Daisey et al., 2003).
Indoor air pollution might lead to students suffering from long and short-term health complications. Besides, it might degrade the learning environment and affect the students’ performance. A research proved that “poor indoor air quality contributes to asthma attacks, absenteeism, and more illness” (Salleh et al., 2011, p.419).
Researches done in the United States proved that good indoor air quality influences the trend of school attendance among the students. Indeed majority of the students suffer from respiratory diseases, skin and eye irritation, fatigue, sneezing, coughing, and nausea due to poor indoor air quality (Daisey et al., 2003).
This paper will focus on poor indoor air quality in schools in the United States, its causes as well as the health problems associated with poor indoor air quality.
Causes of poor indoor air quality
Many factors contribute to poor indoor air quality. The factors include “poor ventilation, availability of contaminant sources like building materials, indoor temperature and humidity, and maintenance activities…the contaminants may range from particles, formaldehyde, radon, bacteria, fungi, to nitrogen oxides” (Salleh et al., 2011, p.419).
At times, the level of contaminants in indoors increases relative to the concentration outdoors. The concentration of contaminants in the indoor air may lead to the occupants experiencing a range of health symptoms and discomfort. Daisey et al. (2003) posit, “It is hard to identify the cause of discomfort due to the presence of both indoor contaminants and other indoor environmental factors” (p.62).
Generally, water damage and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are the major causes of poor indoor air quality. Malfunctioning HVAC systems lead to accumulation of carbon dioxide and indoor air pollutants in classes subjecting the students to health problems.
HVAC systems that do not regulate the level of humidity in the buildings might lead to growth of mold and bacteria, which cause illnesses like coughing and breathing problems.
Other causes of “poor indoor air quality include choice of the building materials, poor site selection, roof design, and improper installation among other causes” (Salleh et al., 2011, p.420). The site where a building is located contributes to indoor air quality. Schools located in regions with high humidity are prone to growth of mold if they do not have proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (Godwin & Batterman, 2007).
Besides, building repairs also contribute to poor indoor air quality. Some school buildings are too old such that it is hard to maintain them. Such buildings suffer from water damage, leaks, and excess moisture leading to poor air quality.
Rate of schools with poor indoor air quality
Half of the 120,000 private and public schools in the United States have poor ventilations systems (Godwin & Batterman, 2007). Consequently, the schools have poor indoor air quality. Every year, over 55 million students enroll in these schools, thus exposing them to health hazards associated with poor indoor air (Godwin & Batterman, 2007).
In spite of the high number of students that are at risk of suffering from poor indoor air in schools, the government has done little to come up with a health agency responsible for enforcing and regulating policies with respect to precarious air atmosphere in schools.
Over six million employees work in the country’s public schools. These employees also suffer the dangers of poor indoor air quality (Mendell & Heath, 2005). The majority of employees agree that the air condition in their workplaces is wanting. Nevertheless, they do not have the capacity to address the problem.
A research of school nurses carried out in 2010 found that over 40 percent of the participants were aware that students and employees were suffering from poor indoor air quality. Over 75 percent of the respondents agreed that their schools did not have a team to monitor and regulate indoor air quality.
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Indeed, schools are doing little to marshal the resources necessary for making sure that all classrooms and other workrooms have proper ventilation systems (Tham & Zuraimi, 2010). The American teachers have declared the problem of indoor air quality as one of the neglected challenges.
Scholars continue to associate student performance with indoor air quality. They have found that many cases of sicknesses and absenteeism come because of poor indoor air quality. In return, they have adverse effects on the students’ performance. Some of the short-term illnesses that come because of poor indoor air quality include fatigue, poor concentration, nausea, loss of focus and impaired memory (Mendell & Heath, 2005).
Lack of air circulation in classrooms leads to increase in temperature. The high temperature causes discomfort and contributes to fatigue. Besides, poor circulation of fresh air in classrooms leads to the accumulation of different toxic gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. These gases lead to the students suffering from nausea.
Schools erect the ventilation systems to aid in diluting or getting rid of airborne contaminants. The contaminants may emanate from cleaning agents, the breath from the students, as well as from pathogens. The ventilation systems enhance the circulation of fresh air, therefore diluting the airborne contaminants, while some of the contaminants are forced out of the building together with the contaminated air (Tham & Zuraimi, 2010).
Moreover, the ventilation system facilitates to regulate the level of carbon dioxide in the classrooms. Research has shown that high concentration of carbon dioxide in classrooms contributes to poor performance among the students. Besides, it leads to most of the students complaining of health problems.
A study on students that learn in well-ventilated classrooms found that the students scored higher marks on a standard test relative to students that learn in poorly ventilated classrooms.
Poor indoor air quality leads to accumulation of bioaerosol contaminants in classrooms. According to Seppänen et al. (1999), bioaerosol contaminants refer to “a wide variety of agents from biological sources found in indoor environments” (p.227). The contaminants include bacteria, viruses, allergens such as the house dusts, and fungi that may contain irritants, toxins, and allergens.
Poor ventilation and other building features in classrooms contribute to respiratory diseases among the students. Even though no research has come up with the measurements of airborne virus in schools, some studies have compiled reports on the airborne bacteria (Seppänen et al., 1999).
House dust contains bacterial endotoxins. Poor ventilation in schools leads to concentration of dust in classes. When students inhale the dust, the bacteria present in the dust leads to the majority of them exhibiting a number of flu-like symptoms. The students also suffer from breathing problems.
Other negative health effects of poor indoor air quality include respiratory diseases and asthma. Yang et al. (2009) define asthma as, “A chronic respiratory inflammation that causes the airways to constrict and leads to wheezing, breathlessness, and coughing” (p.349). The majority of absenteeism cases reported in the United States schools are due to health problems related to poor indoor air quality.
Most classes in the country are poorly ventilated leading to poor indoor air quality. Today, millions of students in the United States suffer from asthma, which account for over 14 million absenteeism cases recorded every year.
The Institute of Medicine identifies moisture concentration in classrooms as the major cause of asthma in majority of the schools (Tham & Zuraimi, 2010). There is a substantial relationship between humid enclosed spaces and asthma attacks. Improving indoor air quality goes a long way to reduce the number of absenteeism cases associated with asthma.
Dampness and molds in classrooms contribute to health problems among the students. The presence of mold in classes causes throat irritation, coughing, headaches, tiredness, and wheezing. Students with weak immune systems, or who are vulnerable to infections, are prone to suffering from health problems related to mold and humid indoor environment (Tham & Zuraimi, 2010).
The health dangers linked to poor indoor air quality can be treacherous and in stern cases, fatal. Both adults and children exposed to these lethal air surroundings in schools are prone to exhibiting physical signs associated to poor indoor air quality.
Nevertheless, the effect of poor indoor air quality on children’s health might be more adverse than it is to the grownups. Children have weaker health defense mechanism than the adults. Therefore, their body would not withstand the poor indoor air quality health related challenges.
Addressing the problem
Schools can use different strategies to address the problem of poor indoor air quality. One of the strategies is source control. Source control is an effective and inexpensive approach that works on eliminating the sources of pollution. The other strategy that schools can use is enhancing their ventilation systems. Improved ventilations would help in regulating air circulation in the rooms.
Schools can also use air cleaners to improve the quality of indoor air (Yang et al., 2009). Air cleaners help to remove air pollutants from the air leaving the rooms free of pollutants.
In addition to using these strategies, schools need to conduct regular supervision of their buildings to determine if there are signs of leaks, moisture, and mold, which would ensure that the buildings are in a condition that does not support the growth of air pollutants.
Indoor air quality in schools have significant effects on students’ health, However, little is done to ensure that schools work on the quality of their indoor air. Numerous factors contribute to poor indoor air in the majority of the schools. They include poor ventilation systems, building repair, site selection, and improper installations, among others.
Today, over 60,000 private and public schools in the US have inadequate indoor air quality. The schools register over 55 million students every year, hence, subjecting them to health dangers associated with poor indoor air quality. Poor indoor air quality leads to students suffering from asthma, fatigue, nausea, and breathing problems.
In addition, presence of mold in classrooms leads to students contracting a cough, throat irritation, and feeling tired. To address these problems, schools need to work on improving their ventilation systems and controlling the major sources of air pollution.
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