District 203 Taking Indoor Air Quality of Its Schools Seriously

Article excerpt

The Naperville Unit District 203 Air Quality Committee had its first meeting of the school year last week.

If I had started a column with that line a few years ago, many people would've questioned whether a committee should exist to study air.

After complaints of headaches, nausea and breathing trouble by occupants of the new DuPage County courthouse in the early 1990s resulted in a lawsuit and changes to the building, many more people in this area are cognizant of issues surrounding indoor air quality.

Schools around the country are starting to investigate indoor environmental issues. Their buildings have approximately four times as many occupants as office buildings with the same amount of space. That - coupled with warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency that children are more susceptible to the hazards of air pollution - brings the issue to the forefront for schools.

The New England EPA initiated a $1 million project last week to protect children from health threats. Using the most recent data, the Boston Globe reported that one-third of Massachusetts schools reported unacceptable indoor air quality, which led to headaches, asthma attacks and fatigue in students and teachers throughout Massachusetts.

Closer to home, school districts in Warrenville, Hoffman Estates, St. Charles and McHenry County are dealing with this issue on various levels.

The DuPage County Health Department has become proactive on the issue since a survey of citizens determined that indoor air quality and asthma were both high-level concerns to county residents. In December 1999, the health department embarked on a five-year plan to target all 500 schools and 900 day-care centers in the county on the issue of air quality. According to county engineer Les Bant, schools are being invited to participate on a voluntary basis to take advantage of testing and to raise awareness.

District 203 took advantage of the county's offer to test all of its schools. Results from the first schools tested - Lincoln and Washington junior highs; Steeple Run, Prairie and Mill Street elementary schools; and Naperville North High School - were made available to air quality committee members.

The results indicated improvements still need to be made within buildings.

The report for Prairie noted that "the air movement within the building seemed low in the classrooms, LRC (library) and hallways," and that the main building exhaust system was not operating at the time of the test. The carbon dioxide level exceeded the comfort level guidelines set by the American Society of Heating and Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers in six of the nine of rooms tested. Although this is not viewed as a health hazard, the report indicated the air may be perceived as stale or stuffy.

Likewise, more than half of the rooms selected for testing at Washington, and almost as many at Lincoln, exceeded the engineers' guidelines. …