Promoting Healthy School Environments: A Step-by-Step Framework to Improve Indoor Air Quality in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana

Article excerpt

Introduction

Most people spend more than 90% of their time inside of their homes and in various microenvironments, including automobiles, offices, grocery stores, malls, hospitals, and classrooms (Burge, Hoyer, Gunderson, & Bobenhausen, 2003; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [U.S. EPA], 2011a). The amount of the time an average person spends indoors has drastically increased over the years partly because more people have shifted from rural lifestyles to more urban lifestyles. Urban lifestyles involve work, learning, and conducting activities that predominantly take place in indoor environments. For the infirm and school children, the percentage of the time spent indoors is even greater.

The quality of the air in most indoor microenvironments might be as poor, and in some cases, poorer than the outdoor air quality (U.S. EPA, 2009). Estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and numerous literature sources put the quality of indoor air at between 2 and 10 times poorer than the outdoor air quality (Axelrad, 2006; California Air Resources Board [CARB], 2005; Payne-Sturges, Burke, Breysse, Diener-West, & Buckley, 2004; Sheldon et al., 1994; U.S. EPA, 2009). In some cases, the levels of indoor air pollutants may reach as high as 100 times higher or more than the outdoor pollutant levels (U.S. EPA, 2011a).

As a consequence of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools, students, teachers, and staff who occupy school buildings can potentially be exposed to various pollutants, which can lead to significant negative health outcomes.

The identification, evaluation, and control of indoor air pollutants can be difficult, particularly because some pollutants or sources of environmental triggers of asthma may not be obvious. Since the impact of the IAQ problem can be significant due to the large number of people who can be affected, it is paramount to provide a systematic approach to address a growing problem in schools, homes, and other indoor environments where children, the elderly, and the infirm spend most of their time. About one in every five Americans spends a large amount of time in a school environment, either indoors or outdoors (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995).

The purpose of this article is to present background information about schools in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, as work environments as well as justification for a new approach to improve and sustain IAQ in schools in the area that is conducive to productive learning. The proposed approach is a step-by-step methodology or framework modeled and adapted from the U.S. EPA's Tools for School (TfS) kit, an action-based protocol that embraces a team-approach to solving IAQ problems. The U.S. EPA TfS kit, which has been used successfully in various schools across the country, requires fewer resources in terms of funds and human skills, which semirural schools may be able to provide.

Potential Sources of Poor IAQ

Poor IAQ, particularly in work environments such as schools, is one of the many factors that provides an uncomfortable and unhealthy working or learning environment to individuals. Many times poor IAQ is attributed to work practices and processes taking place indoors. Other factors leading to poor IAQ are relative humidity, room temperatures that can be too high or too low, inadequate air movement, and the radiant temperature.

Work Practices and Processes In and Outside the School Environment

Certain consumer products that are frequently used inside school buildings and in the immediate vicinity outside of the school buildings can be a potential source of pollutant emissions and may subsequently cause poor IAQ. Some common sources of pollutants include cleaning products, air fresheners, art supplies, and laboratory chemicals. Airborne pollutants can be found in janitorial closets that serve as storage for cleaning products. Heating and cooling systems, idling school bus fleets, transportation vehicles, and environmental tobacco smoke can also release a significant amount of indoor air pollutants. …