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The critical importance of improving and maintaining Indoor Air Quality in schools

Tuesday, January 23 2018 9:38 AM
By Jon Goering

Discovering IAQ issues in your school can be tricky.

A high school in Pennsylvania had an invisible killer lurking in its building, but nobody knew it. At least not right away.

The killer gained access to the school through the ventilation system in the roof.

Workers had installed a cell tower on top of the school along with a generator to power the tower battery.

The ventilation system began sucking in diesel fumes from the tower’s generator, and where did those toxic fumes go?

Throughout the building.

It doesn’t take a doctor to understand inhaling diesel fumes over time can cause serious health problems. Like lung cancer and breathing problems.

Fortunately, the killer was caught.

A science teacher at the school had started a class project to analyze the school’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). The class discovered that particle levels in the air spiked every few hours.

Curious to know why, students learned that when the generator ran, particulate pollution in the air increased.

Needless to say, the tower was moved.

If students and staff had gotten sick, there’s a chance nobody would have known the source, at least not right away, because it didn’t appear as a likely culprit.

The Importance of Maintaining Indoor Air Quality

You can’t see the air in your building, therefore it’s easy to overlook. 

As a school official, you want nothing more than to provide the best possible environment for your students, teachers, and staff.

But how do you go about doing that, especially when you probably aren’t an expert in indoor air quality?

In this post, we’ll discuss how to know if you have IAQ issues in your school’s building and how to address them.

Plus, we’ll explain the consequences of not addressing IAQ and provide a checklist to help guide you through the process.

How to Know If You Have IAQ Issues In Your School

Discovering IAQ issues in your school can be tricky because symptoms mirror those of colds, allergies, or the flu. Moreover, the absence of symptoms doesn’t mean your district’s IAQ is healthy.

In general, look for these clues:

  • Widespread symptoms in the school (or classrooms)
  • When people leave the building for a day or more, the symptoms subsist
  • Changes at the school, such as painting, leads to symptoms immediately
  • Reactions occur indoors only
  • A medical professional identifies the symptoms as IAQ-related


Your school staff can prevent and resolve most issues inexpensively.

Prevention is the key word here. It’s far more inexpensive to prevent problems than to correct them after they have developed.

 As a school official, you have the opportunity to lead IAQ efforts in your district.

How to Address Indoor Air Quality in Schools

As a school official, you have the opportunity to lead IAQ efforts in your district. Communication is paramount.

And while it may seem daunting at first, look at this as an opportunity to make a positive difference.

You can’t do it alone, however. Maintaining good IAQ is a team effort.

Consider taking these actions as first steps:

  • Learn how bad indoor air negatively affects students and staff
  • Select an IAQ team and coordinator (consider teachers, maintenance staff, custodians, students, parents, school board members)
  • Implement, support, and promote an IAQ program in your district (you might study what other districts have done to address IAQ)
  • Develop a plan to address IAQ emergencies, such as a mold problem or illness outbreak related to IAQ
  • Communicate the program to the school, school board, unions, and community
  • A 2012 school health study revealed that nearly 50 percent of school districts had a program to manage IAQ (more than 80 percent used the EPA’s program as a guide)

What Happens if You Don’t Address Indoor Air Quality in Your School

Asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism in schools.

The Environmental Protection Agency says exposure to allergens such as dust mites, molds, paint fumes, floating around in the air, contribute to this.

In addition to absenteeism, ignoring an IAQ problem can lead to other issues, such as:

  • Compromising student and teacher comfort and performance
  • Short- and long-term health problems
  • Accelerated damage to buildings and equipment
  • School closings
  • Negative publicity
  • Eroded public trust
  • Exposing the district to liability issues

It’s pretty clear that doing nothing is not an option.

Indoor Air Quality Checklist for Schools

As we stated earlier, school officials have the opportunity to provide their districts with healthy learning environments by being strong, focused leaders.

Consider using this School Official’s Checklist to guide you through the process.


Change begins at the top.

School leaders should address IAQ in their district by first identifying current or potential issues in their buildings. Next, assemble an IAQ team and appoint a coordinator to improve and maintain indoor air.

Throughout the process, communicate with students, teachers, staff, and the community. You’ll be well on your way to a happy, healthy school district.

Do you suspect you have IAQ issues in your school buildings? Do you need help identifying if problems exist or addressing current issues?

For more information, please email Jonathon Goering by clicking here or call 316-265-9655.

Knipp Services works with commercial and industrial building owners to lower operational expenses and increase building comfort.

We provide services that enable owners to have high-performance buildings. “Making Buildings Better” sums up the mission statement of Knipp Services.

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Creating Healthy Indoor Air Quality in Schools

Your Office Air is Killing You

Environmental Protection Agency

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