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While reading, writing and arithmetic used to be the primary focus for parents and educators alike, recent wildfires and looming new COVID-19 variants have parents in B.C. more concerned than ever before about the one thing they can’t see: air. A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that indoor air quality (IAQ) in North American workplaces can be poor and up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, and schools are no different. As students head back to school this month, many parents, teachers and school boards are looking for answers on how to ensure clean air in the classroom.
Currently, the level of air quality regulations varies across federal and provincial jurisdictions with none mandating the use of high-efficiency filtration systems. In B.C., school districts must ensure HVAC systems are designed, operated and maintained to Occupational Health and Safety and WorkSafeBC standards and ventilation systems must meet ASHRAE standards. However, this simply isn’t enough. To keep our kids safe, stricter mandates are needed.
But does the air we breathe really matter? Consider this. Children have a higher sensitivity to pollutants than adults. They breathe more air relative to their body weight and are actively growing, leading to a greater susceptibility to environmental pollutants. As a result, children have a higher chance of experiencing adverse health effects of insufficient IAQ or suffering from Sick Building Syndrome, a series of chronic respiratory symptoms caused by poor ventilation and insufficient IAQ. In the classroom, lack of adequate ventilation has been associated with poor cognitive development and function, higher absenteeism, slower response times, inability to focus and poor productivity.
Studies show that the reverse is also true. Even slight improvements in IAQ show dramatic improvements in learning and cognition. Classrooms with higher air ventilation showed an 11 per cent increase in productivity and scored 14 to 15 per cent higher on standardized tests once indoor air was cleaned.
We all want to see children thriving in school this year, engrossed in in-person learning, however, given the mandates above are not in place, it’s important we take preventative steps to protect the health and safety of our students and teachers. One way to do this is to be aware of the symptoms of low-grade air quality, understand where it comes from and how to improve it.
TIPS & TRICKS TO IMPROVE AIR QUALITY:
Teachers often say to their students, in class concentration is key. The same rings true for air quality, especially as it relates to airborne transmission of viruses. Indoor spaces with low air movement and ventilation increase the risks of airborne transmission. Therefore, maintaining adequate indoor air quality by encouraging continuous airflow helps prevent virus particles from accumulating in the air. Here are five easy ways teachers, parents and school boards can improve indoor air quality at school and home:
- Natural ventilation: Open windows and doors regularly, when possible, to improve natural ventilation. Opening multiple windows can create a crossflow of fresh air. If windows have openings at the top and bottom, open both for maximum airflow.
- Regular cleaning & dusting of classrooms and shared spaces: Regular cleaning is essential to remove dust, dirt, and other pollutants that accumulate over time. Dust surfaces, vacuum carpets and rugs, and mop floors to eliminate allergens and improve indoor air quality.
- Advocate for Advanced Filtration Technologies: Embrace the potential of cutting-edge filtration innovations to enhance indoor air quality (IAQ) and promote energy efficiency. Parents and school boards should collaborate with local authorities, city councillors, and provincial representatives to reassess HVAC regulations in schools, pushing for higher standards to create healthier, sustainable learning spaces.
- Promote Green Practices: Parents and school boards should encourage the use of sustainable building materials and practices that prioritize air quality. This includes the use of non-toxic paints and finishes, and materials with low VOC emissions. Schools should use cleaning products in the classroom that are certified as environmentally friendly and, again, low in VOCs.
- Control humidity levels – Excessive humidity can lead to mold growth and the proliferation of dust mites, both of which can negatively impact indoor air quality. On the other side of the coin, low humidity levels allow for easier transmission of airborne viruses. Using dehumidifiers in damp areas, such as science labs, bathrooms, and lunch rooms can keep humidity levels in check.
Forbes 30 under 30 awardee and CEO, Aedan Fida is a pioneering force in indoor air quality (IAQ) technology. His company, Blade Air, is a recognized leader in IAQ solutions, trusted by Fortune 500 companies, governments and educational boards across Canada.
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