School’s Indoor Air Quality

How often do we think about the air quality in our children’s school, where they spend almost a third of their day?

In cities with poor outdoor air quality, schools usually limit outdoor physical education and break time according to local outdoor air quality readings. But what about the quality of the indoor air?

Let’s think about it for a moment!

Studies have shown that poor air quality in schools increase absenteeism, decrease test scores and compromise staff and student productivity.

When we think of academic excellence we’ll seldom think of structural and maintenance practices that can provide the optimal environment for teachers and students to thrive. Nonetheless, leaky roofs, poor heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems (HVAC), inappropriate use of cleaning products among others can make a difference in academic excellence.

In fact, poor indoor air quality can cause asthma, respiratory infections and allergic diseases which start a spiral of effects from school absenteeism to poor performance.

What is the impact of indoor air quality in schools?

Asthma, respiratory infections and allergic diseases are commonly caused or exacerbated by moisture in HVAC system, microbiological pollutants, animal allergens, nitrogen dioxide or other combustion byproducts, chemicals in cleaning products, low ventilation, formaldehyde, dampness, mold, outdoor pollutants or vehicle exhaust.

Asthma for example is suffered by millions across the world – approximately 1 in every 10 children!  And it is the main reason students skip school in the US. Asthma can be controlled with medications after it occurs but a great deal can be done before it occurs by controlling the environmental triggers, especially in closed environments like schools.

For optimal indoor air quality in schools, we need to:

Sources:
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Printable Version of the Coordinator’s Guide for Indoor Air Quality
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Indoor Air Quality in High Performance Schools
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) – Managing Asthma in the School Environment

Trying to sleep but you cannot?

Sleep is not the first thought we have when thinking about the effects of air pollution.

A study conducted by Dr. Martha E. Billings, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington was presented in May at the American Thoracic Society International Conference. The study shows that air pollution affects sleep quality.

“Prior studies have shown that air pollution impacts heart health and affects breathing and lung function, but less is known about whether air pollution affects sleep,” said lead author Martha E. Billings “We thought an effect was likely given that air pollution causes upper airway irritation, swelling and congestion, and may also affect the central nervous system and brain areas that control breathing patterns and sleep.”

The study conducted showed that both PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide are linked with poor sleep quality. The higher PM2.5 concentration leads to 50% odds of having poor sleep. Similarly, high levels of nitrogen dioxide increased by 60% the chances of experiencing poor sleep. 

Exactly why, is yet to be studied, but air pollution irritates nose, sinuses and back of throat which affects breathing and ultimately may have an impact on sleep quality. Also, air pollutants can enter the blood and can potentially have an effect on the brain and its breathing regulation capacities, therefore disrupting sleep.

“These new findings indicate the possibility that commonly experienced levels of air pollution not only affect heart and lung disease, but also sleep quality. Improving air quality may be one way to enhance sleep health and perhaps reduce health disparities,” Dr. Billings said

Sleep problems are common everywhere and on the increase. The use of multiple aids to sleep is increasing. This study shows how important it is to look at our environment, know the quality of our indoor and outdoor air and take measures to improve it. Improving air quality in our indoor space may go a long way in helping us having better sleep quality!

Monitor air quality!

Sources:
Neuroscience News
AMERICAN THORACIC SOCIETY – Air Pollution May Disrupt Sleep
Newsweek – Trouble Sleeping? Air Pollution May Be to Blame, Study Says
The Guardian – Air pollution linked to poor sleep, study finds