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Improving Air Quality in Your Community

Indoor Air: Improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools - Additional Information

Information provided for informational purposes onlyNote: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

This information will help you gain a better understanding of questions homeowners may have about IAQ in schools. The sections below provide more information on this topic.

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Why has indoor air quality become a problem in schools?

  • More than 53 million elementary and secondary students attend approximately 119,000 public and private schools.
  • The average child spends about 1,300 hours in a school building each year while teachers and other employees spend even longer.
  • The average school building is about 42 years old, and more than 75% of American's schools were built before 1970.
  • Many schools are in poor condition because of severe budget shortfalls. This poor condition leads to a host of environmental problems that can impact children and staff as well as learning and the fiscal bottom line.
  • The General Accounting Office and Department of Education, among others, have documented the poor physical condition of many older facilities.
  • Learn more about IAQ in schools.

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What is the impact of poor indoor air quality on children?

Why are children impacted more by poor indoor air quality?

  • Children can be more vulnerable to environmental contaminants than adults.
  • Children eat, drink, and breathe more per pound of body weight than adults, exposing them to greater quantities of contaminants.
  • Because their bodies are still developing, children's immune and natural defense systems are not adequately able to defend against many indoor air pollutants.
  • Exposure for young children is increased because they often play close to the ground and put things in their mouths.

How can poor indoor air quality impact children?

  • Studies have shown that student achievement is related to the quality of a school's physical environment.
  • Poor indoor air quality is one of the highest environmental risks to children's welfare.

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What other problems can result from poor indoor air quality at schools?

  • Increased long- and short-term health problems include:
    • Coughing.
    • Eye irritation.
    • Headaches.
    • Asthma episodes or severe asthma attacks.
    • Allergic reactions.
    • Legionnaire's Disease.
    • Carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • Promoting the spread of airborne infectious diseases.
    • An unfavorable learning environment for children.
    • Reduced productivity of teachers and staff due to discomfort, sickness, or absenteeism.
    • Accelerated deterioration and decreased efficiency of the school's physical plant and equipment.
    • Increased risk of closing school rooms or buildings.
    • Strained relationships among school administrators, parents, and staff.
    • Negative publicity that could damage a school's image and effectiveness.
    • Potential liability problems.

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What are sources of indoor air pollution?

Sources Outside of Schools

  • Polluted Outdoor Air
    • Pollen
    • Dust
    • Mold
    • Industrial Emissions
    • Vehicle Emissions
    • Nearby Sources
    • Loading Docks
    • Fumes from Dumpsters
    • Unsanitary Debris or Building Exhausts near Outdoor Air Intakes
    • Underground Sources
    • Radon
    • Pesticides
    • Leakage from Underground Storage Tanks
    • Learn more about sources of outdoor air pollution.

Building Equipment

  • Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) Equipment
    • Microbiological Growth in Drip Pans, Ductwork, Coils, and Humidifiers
    • Improper Venting of Combustion Products
    • Dust or Debris in Ductwork
  • Non-HVAC Equipment
    • Emissions from Office Equipment (Volatile Organic Compounds [VOC], Ozone)
    • Emissions from Shops, Labs, and Cleaning Processes


  • Components
    • Microbiological Growth on Soiled or Water-Damaged Materials
    • Dry Drain Traps that Allow Passage of Sewage Gas
    • Materials Emitting VOC, Inorganic Compounds, or Damaged Asbestos
    • Material that Produces Particle Pollution (Dust)
  • Furnishings/Finishes
    • Emissions from New Furnishings and Finishes such as Flooring
    • Microbiological Growth on or in Soiled or Water-Damaged Furnishings

Other Indoor Sources

  • Science Laboratories
  • Vocational Arts Areas
  • Copy/Print Areas
  • Food Preparation Areas
  • Smoking Lounges
  • Cleaning Materials
  • Trash
  • Pesticides
  • Vapors and VOC from Paint, Caulk, and Adhesives
  • Occupants with Communicable Diseases
  • Dry-Erase Markers and Similar Pens
  • Insects and Other Pests
  • Animals in Classrooms
  • Other Personal Care Products
  • EPA is developing a Healthy Schools Environmental Assessment Tool to help school district evaluate their schools for key environmental, safety, and health issues.
  • Check out more information on chemical use and management within schools.

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What is I-BEAM?

  • I-BEAM is the IAQ Building and Evaluation Assessment Tool. It consists of many individual modules, which explain different aspects of IAQ, including how to manage, operate, and maintain your building for IAQ, and how to ensure that your energy efficiency projects are compatible with IAQ.
  • This tool integrates IAQ, energy efficiency, and building economics into a unique building management tool. With the guidance I-BEAM offers, you will be able to:
    • Improve IAQ and stay within budget.
    • Refine your maintenance program for IAQ.
    • Better manage housekeeping services for IAQ.
    • Conduct an IAQ audit.
    • Train management and staff in IAQ.
    • Provide documentation that the building is following IAQ building practices.
    • Reduce liability exposure to IAQ complaints.
  • Since schools are large buildings, many aspects of I-BEAM will enable you to improve air quality while staying in budget.
  • Check out EPA's site on I-BEAM for additional information and for ways to obtain this guidance.

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What is SAVES?

  • The School Advanced Ventilation Engineering Software (SAVES) is a free software package that school designers can use to assess the potential financial payback and indoor humidity control benefits of Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) systems for school applications.
  • SAVES contains two software tools that can be used:
    • The ERV Financial Assessment Software Tool (EFAST) assess the financial characteristics of ERV systems for school applications.
    • The Indoor Humidity Assessment Tool (IHAT) helps school designers assess the humidity control characteristics of ERV systems as well as other design systems that can impact the indoor moisture levels and IAQ.
  • EPA has more information available about SAVES.

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