Students miss about 12.8 million school days annually because of asthma and asthma-related issues, adding another layer of importance to the already vital need for clean air and proper ventilation in schools.
Blake, of the Northwest Clean Air Agency over in Mt. Vernon, Wash., and Prill, a Building Science and IEQ Specialist based in Spokane, Wash., will be leading an “Indoor Air Quality Walkthrough” Webinar on February 26 at 1:30 p.m. EST, part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Tools for Schools” educational webinar series. Prill and Blake have visited more than 1,000 schools, investigating indoor environmental issues, doing workshops and skill training and have presented their walkthrough at the EPA’s Tools for Schools symposium.
“Kids are required to go to school for the most part, but schools aren’t required to do much in terms of the indoor environment,” Prill says of the importance of this work. “There’s not much in the way of school-appropriate standards or guidelines. Schools aren’t industrial workplaces.”
On a typical day, the team will take their instruments, including CO2 particle counters, light meters, moisture meters and temperature meters, and will tour a school and monitor air quality. What gets monitored gets controlled, and they loan equipment to schools for further monitoring if need be with the intent that schools will eventually get their own. When monitoring, they look to make sure a school meets standards in these five areas:
- Pollutants are controlled (chemicals are stored, exhaust fans are working, locker rooms are ventilated, science and art activities are properly monitored, etc.)
- Proper ventilation
He says he does not want staff members at a school to feel as though the program is designed to tell people how they fall short or to regulate them. Commending staff members on positive practices and reinforcing pride in their work is an important element, as is providing a wealth of resources to share with the staff. Transparency is important, too -- measurements are shared at the end of the day so that everyone is on the same page.
Prill says the program has been successful so far. The majority of schools they visit end up adopting some kind of indoor environmental program instead of just operating the school on breakdown maintenance, or only dealing with equipment when there is a serious issue. With the focus on education and tight budgets, facility maintenance can get put on the backburner, and with limited resources, facilities are often only dealt with when something goes wrong.
“We don’t do breakdown maintenance with humans,” he says. “You don’t want to wait for people to have problems, so you do prevention.”
He attributes the success of the program to helping teachers, school administrators and facilities teams understand their buildings, adopt some prevention policies and guidelines, and guide on-site assessment.
Prill says he recommends the webinar to anyone working or regularly in contact with a school, including parents, teachers, administrators, facility managers, building operators and head custodians.
“Everybody needs to be on board,” Prill says. “We see teachers bringing in chemicals, air fresheners, furry animals in the rooms, teachers that turn off the ventilation system. We need everyone in a school community to be on board, especially with understanding asthma and sensitivities.”
He says it’s important for everyone to know the parameters and standards for good air quality in a school to protect student health and to be aware when something is not right, so it can be fixed right away. A united front and awareness are the keys to prevention, which not only has health and environmental advantages, but will also financially benefit tight school budgets in the long run, as fixing equipment or major ventilation problems will prove more costly in the end.
Learn more and register for this informative and practical webinar.
For those who cannot attend the webinar, Prill and Blake have put together a DVD with more tools and walkthroughs for schools to use.