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Do Air Pollution in Schools Influence Student Performance? Essay


Abstract

This paper set out to review the relationship between poor indoor air quality and student health. The paper begins by noting that schools are prone to indoor pollutants and thermal conditions due to the lack of proper funding for good building maintenance practices and the lack of government regulations on building IAQ standards.

By critically reviewing evidence presented by researchers in the field of indoor air, the paper demonstrates that poor indoor air has adverse impacts on the health of students. Specifically, the paper reveals that there is a direct association between poor IAQ and incidents of asthma, allergic reactions, and bacterial infections.

Evidence also links poor IAQ to long-term lung infections caused by the small particles that are prevalent in buildings with poor IAQ. Poor air conditions also lead to headaches and skin in problems by the students.

The paper concludes by asserting that parents, school administrators and policy makers should take steps to improve the IAQ in schools in order to mitigate the negative health outcomes that students face.

Introduction

Indoor air (which is the air breathed within a building environment) is an acknowledged source of pollutants. For this reason, the government has established standards for most buildings to ensure that air quality is observed. However, the stringent air quality standards required for most commercial buildings are not applied to the school environment.

With few states regulating indoor school environments, this matter is left to the discretion of the school board. Indoor air quality is an important issue since students are exposed to indoor air for a majority of their time in school since they spend most time in school buildings.

Mendell and Heath (2005) document that students spend up to 90% of their days indoors thus making any effects of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) more pronounced in them. In addition to this, the bodies of the students are undergoing development, which makes them more vulnerable to environmental perils.

This paper will set out to demonstrate that poor indoor air quality (IAQ) has direct negative impacts on the health of students. To reinforce this assertion, the paper will review literature on the effects of poor IAQ in schools.

Prevalence of Poor IAQ in Schools

While poor indoor environments exist in residential places and commercial buildings, schools are of particular public concern for a number of reasons. To begin with, most schools experience a shortage of funding and this leads to inadequate maintenance services (Mendell & Heath, 2005, p.27).

Faced with tight budgets, schools do not give priority to protecting students against poor IAQ as the money is channeled to the more pressing school running operations. Secondly, children are more prone to environmental pollutants than an adult, which makes it easier for them to fall sick.

The problem of poor IAQ in schools has in part being caused by the lack of strict regulations by the federal government on indoor environments. Mendell and Heath (2005) note that while approximately 50 million students in the US are exposed to indoor environments, few states regulate indoor school environments, and even fewer have minimum ventilation standards (p.28).

The poor indoor air consists of pollutants that have adverse effects on students. Due to the increased respiratory rates that students have because of their young ages, they end up inhaling more toxicants (Pike-Paris, 2005).

IAQ and Student Health

Poor IAQ in schools exacerbates diseases such as asthma among students. Asthma as a disease requires special attention since it is a “principal cause of school absences from chronic illness” (Mendell & Heath, 2005, p.29).Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a byproduct of combustion, is found in the indoor environment because of gas heating.

While NO2 is fairly well tolerated by most people, exposure to this gas may cause various respiratory conditions and symptoms. Exposure to NO2 causes irritation of respiratory tract in students. For students who suffer from asthma, a low-level exposure to NO2 will cause a narrowing of airways.

Pike-Paris (2005) states that high-level exposure leads to decreased pulmonary function and shortness of breath that will lead to an asthmatic attack. In recognition of the health implication of pollutants in indoor air on students, the Environmental Protection Agency has ranked indoor air pollution among the top five risks to public health (Pike-Paris, 2005).

Poor IAQ increases the risk of communicable respiratory illnesses for the students. This risk of communicable illnesses is caused by poor ventilation, which leads to poor IAQ in many buildings.

The low air exchange rates prevalent in poorly aerated buildings leads to an absence of enough fresh air in the building. Zota et al. (2005) documents that inadequate ventilation with outdoor air is one of the primary building related problems related to poor IAQ. The poor ventilation rates are sometimes caused by the need to save costs by schools since low ventilation rate translates to lower energy consumption.

Poor ventilation can cause an accumulation of infectious disease agents within the school environment. When this occurs, a student suffering from a communicable disease is likely to infect other students who are in the same environment.

Students are more likely to suffer from lung problems due to poor IAQ in their school buildings. Poorly maintained ventilation systems allow small particles to enter into the classroom environment (Buchanan, 2007). These small particles are particularly dangerous and may compromise the health of the student.

The World Health Organization (2007) states that fine particles are able to move deeper into the lungs therefore having stronger respiratory effects in children. These particles are also capable of remaining in the atmosphere for extended durations of time therefore further aggravating their effects.

Lung issues are significant since they are not easy to observe and it might take years for the effect of these fine particle deposits to be felt by the individual. In this way, IAQ contributes to the long time health problems of the student.

The indoor air quality is linked to allergic responses experienced by students. When the quality of the air is poor, allergens are likely to be present in the air. Burroughs and Hansen (2011) states that when students inhale this allergens, their immune system can overreact and this might flood the system with histamines, resulting in the allergic symptoms.

The allergic reactions may range from mild to severe and when they are severe, the student might require medical attention. Research indicates that poorly maintained buildings are likely to have allergens that may originate in humidifiers contaminated by microorganisms as well as external environmental pollutants such as pollen, respirable particles, and dust mites.

Students are likely to manifest nasal symptoms when in the poor IAQ school environment. This symptom develops rapidly when the students enter into the school building environment and persists while they are there.

Burroughs and Hansen (2011) suggest that these symptoms are normally a reaction to high temperatures in the poor IAQ environment. While these symptoms often go away when the students leave school, they cause discomfort and can lead to nasal irritation. The nasal irritation might require medication to deal with.

Poor IAQ in school can lead to hypersensitivity pneumonitis in students. This condition is an allergic lung disorder that is caused by exposure to pollutants in the environment. When the air quality in the school building is poor, it is likely to contain pollutants that will trigger this condition.

Students experiencing hypersensitivity pneumonitis will experience frequent headaches, shortness of breath, fever and chills. Burroughs and Hansen (2011) assert that while the attack rate of this condition is very low, it should not be ignored since it might lead to more serious lung infections.

Students are exposed to bacterial infections due to poor IAQ. These bacterial infections, if not dealt with, might have serious consequences on the health of the student. A common bacterial infection caused by poor IAQ is Legionnaires’ disease. This disease is characterized by headaches, chest pain, vomiting, and even pneumonia.

The disease has a fatality rate of 15% making it one of the most dangerous diseases caused or exacerbated by poor IAQ (Pike-Paris, 2005). This is a troubling revelation considering the recent report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that indicates that Legionnaires disease is on the rise in the US. The effects of Legionnaire’s disease are especially adverse in students who are immunosuppressed.

In addition to the diagnosable illnesses that poor IAQ causes, students may experience mild symptoms due to the poor environment. Symptoms such as headaches and fatigue are common among students who are exposed to poor IAQ.

Burroughs and Hansen (2011) notes that the headaches, which may range from moderate to severe migraines and the fatigue make it difficult to concentrate in the building environment. Poor IAQ can also lead to skin problems especially among female students. Warm dry air or excessive air movement can create dermatitis on exposed skin or aggravate existing skin problems such as eczema.

Conclusion

This paper set out to demonstrate that poor indoor air quality in schools contributes to negative health outcomes among students. To this end, the paper has revealed that poor IAQ may cause a number of short and long-term health problems among students who are exposed to the poor air while in the school facilities.

In spite of the fact that good IAQ contributes to positive learning outcomes for students, incidents of poor IAQ are prevalent in many schools in the country. The negative health impacts of poor IAQ highlighted in this paper should motivate the relevant authorities to take up protective environmental measures to protect students from this adverse effects of poor IAQ in schools.

Parents, school administrators, and policy makers need to be aware of the link between poor indoor air quality and negative student health. Only then can then take up measures to improve the IAQ in schools and therefore prevent the health problems that are exacerbated by poor IAQ in schools.

References

Buchanan, B. (2007). Poor air quality and other environmental irritants can lead to health concerns for your students and staff. American School Board Journal, 12(1), 48-50.

Burroughs, H.E., & Hansen, J.S. (2011). Managing Indoor Air Quality. NY: The Fairmont Press, Inc

Mendell, M.J., & Heath, G.A. (2005). Do indoor pollutants and thermal conditions in schools influence student performance? A critical review of the literature. Indoor Air, 15 (2), 27–52.

Pike-Paris, A. (2005). Indoor Air Quality: What It Does. Pediatric Nursing, 31(1), 39-49.

World Health Organization (2008). Indoor Air Pollution: Children’s Health and the Environment. Retrieved from:

Zota, A., Adamkiewicz, J., Levy, J., & Spengler, D. (2005). Ventilation in public housing: implications for indoor nitrogen dioxide concentrations. Indoor Air, 15 (2), 393–401.

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IvyPanda. (2019, December 12). Do Air Pollution in Schools Influence Student Performance? Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/poor-indoor-air-quality-in-schools-and-the-relationship-to-student-health/

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"Do Air Pollution in Schools Influence Student Performance?" IvyPanda, 12 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/poor-indoor-air-quality-in-schools-and-the-relationship-to-student-health/.

1. IvyPanda. "Do Air Pollution in Schools Influence Student Performance?" December 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/poor-indoor-air-quality-in-schools-and-the-relationship-to-student-health/.


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IvyPanda. "Do Air Pollution in Schools Influence Student Performance?" December 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/poor-indoor-air-quality-in-schools-and-the-relationship-to-student-health/.

References

IvyPanda. 2019. "Do Air Pollution in Schools Influence Student Performance?" December 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/poor-indoor-air-quality-in-schools-and-the-relationship-to-student-health/.

References

IvyPanda. (2019) 'Do Air Pollution in Schools Influence Student Performance'. 12 December.

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