While most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can affect their health, only a small percentage realize that poor indoor air quality can also have significant health effects.
Students, teachers and school staff spend a great deal of time inside schools buildings. Over the past decades, the indoor air pollution in schools has increased steadily due to numerous factors such as aging buildings, tighter maintenance budgets, inadequate ventilation, and increased usage housekeeping supplies.
With a higher density of occupants for the same floor space when compared to typical office buildings, schools require adequate indoor air quality in order to create a favorable environment for students and staff.
Children are particularly affected by exposure to air pollutants as their bodies are still developing. Symptoms, such as headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, coughing, sneezing, dizziness, nausea, and irritation of the eye, nose, throat and skin are frequently associated with poor indoor air quality.
Inappropriate indoor air quality is also linked to reduced productivity of the staff due to discomfort, sickness, or absenteeism.
The typical indoor air pollutants common to schools are:
- Biological contaminants (mold, dust mites, pet dander, pollen, etc.);
- Fine particulate matter
- Lead (Pb)
- Nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2)
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
In order to lower the concentration of indoor air pollutants and minimize the exposure risks for school occupants, Health Canada proposes six basic control strategies:
Source Management.It is the most effective control method and includes source removal, source substitution, and source isolation.
Local Exhaust.It involves the removal of individual sources of pollutants before they can disperse into the indoor air, by venting the contaminated air directly outside. (Examples: restrooms, kitchens, science labs, housekeeping storage rooms, printing and duplicating rooms, and vocational/ industrial areas such as welding booths.
Ventilation.Helps dilute the concentration of noxious fumes in the air by introducing cleaner outdoor air into the building.
Exposure Control.It involves adjusting the time and location of use in order to minimize the exposure of school occupants to intentionally released air contaminants. (Example: the best time for maintenance work such as painting, carpentry, masonry, welding is on Friday after school is dismissed; the ventilation system would then help reduce the air contaminants over the weekend).
Air Cleaning.It involves the filtration of particles from the air using air purification units, stand-alone or attached to the existing ventilation system.
Education.The school occupants must be provided with information about the sources and effects of contaminants, and about the proper operation of the ventilation system.
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