How You Can Improve School Air Quality Today
Are your children breathing safe air at school?
Children are one of the most vulnerable populations to poor air quality. Air pollutants, like fine particulate matter (PM2.5), can impact their growth, cognitive development, and mental health. Not only that, but the impact of poor air quality can also follow them into adulthood, leading to serious illnesses, such as heart disease.
While parents do their best to create a safe and healthy environment at home, children also spend most of their time at school. So, what does school air quality look like right now around the world?
Today, we’re diving into air pollution in school, its effects on children, and the solutions you can take to minimize it.
Air Quality in Schools
Air quality for schools can vastly differ from district to district and season to season. However, the American Lung Association reports that 50% of schools have poor indoor air quality. This can be due to the following factors:
- Location. Many schools are located near major roadways, making them more accessible and convenient for students and their families. Unfortunately, this means they experience two to three times higher air pollution exposure than schools in low-traffic areas.
- Ventilation. Over 41% of US schools haven’t updated or replaced their Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. Because of this, there’s less fresh air circulating in the classroom, trapping indoor air pollution longer.
- Population Density. An air quality study reveals that classrooms are four times more congested than offices. Couple this with a low air exchange rate, and you’ll experience higher air pollution concentrations.
- Other Factors. Cleaning products, school furnishings, and classroom activities all impact indoor air quality. For example, cooking, burning candles, and using air fresheners can be sources of indoor air pollution. Also, paint, varnish, and cleaning agents can release volatile organic compounds into the air we breathe.
- No Air Quality Monitoring. Without air quality monitoring, schools won’t have air quality data to help them realize their air quality status and make informed decisions to improve it.
How Does Air Pollution Affect Children’s Health?
Because a child’s body is small and not yet fully developed, they’re more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. For example, their underdeveloped immune system means that their bodies can’t fight off air pollutants as effectively as an adult’s immune system. As a result, they can become sicklier and have stunted growth and development.
Below are the effects of air pollution on children’s health according to the European Environment Agency:
- Possible cognitive impairment
- Exacerbated asthma symptoms
- Stunted lung function and development
- Low birth weight and increased risk of pre-term birth
- Increased risk for respiratory infections and ear infections
- Exacerbated allergies, like allergic rhinitis, eczema, and conjunctivitis
- Development of cancer, like lung cancer and leukemia
- Increased risk of developing chronic diseases into adulthood
Furthermore, one air quality study found that PM2.5 can impact children’s respiratory and immune systems, brain development, and cardiometabolic health.
How You Can Promote School Air Quality
With children spending 18.5% of their time in classrooms, schools are the second most significant environment that impacts their development. That's why improving school air quality is imperative, so children grow up safe and healthy.
Here are four ways educators, parents, guardians, and even children can contribute to cleaner, more breathable air.
#1 – Teach Your Children About Air Quality
By having air quality lessons as part of the curriculum, you can help students understand the importance of clean air and instill good habits. Moreover, hands-on air quality monitoring activities can empower them to advocate for better air quality beyond the classroom.
For example, they can encourage their parents to minimize air-polluting activities, like wood burning and smoking.
#2 – Join Air Quality Community Projects
Local air quality community projects allow educators, parents, and students to contribute to broader health initiatives to reduce pollution and create healthier communities. This can involve promoting air quality policies, advocating for green spaces around schools, and encouraging sustainable transportation options to reduce traffic-related emissions.
#3 – Stay Up to Date with Air Quality News and Research
Staying informed about the latest developments in air quality research and news can help schools adopt evidence-based practices to enhance air quality within their premises. Additionally, parents and guardians can actively engage with school administrations to advocate for policies and initiatives that prioritize healthy indoor air quality.
#4 – Invest in Air Quality Monitors
Air quality monitors provide real-time data, allowing schools to track pollutant levels, identify sources of contamination, and implement targeted strategies for improvement. Plus, it can help students become more involved in air quality monitoring, inspiring them to contribute to air quality initiatives.
In fact, schools like the University of Rochester and Benicia Unified School District have installed PurpleAir air quality monitors on their campuses. This helps them stay on top of air quality alerts and make informed decisions on keeping students safe.
Worried About Air Quality?
Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map, or join PurpleAir’s mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home. Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.