Regular attendance is a key indicator of a child's success in school and the Centers for Disease Control reports that asthma is the number one cause of absenteeism for American schoolchildren. Poor indoor air quality in schools, however, contributes to worsening of respiratory problems like asthma and keeps kids out of school every day, according to recent reports by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Studies prove that healthy indoor environments do in fact help children learn and behave better. On National Healthy Schools Day parents, teachers, school leaders, and communities can make improved indoor air quality a priority for our children by asking a few questions and taking simple steps.
The EPA has estimated that up to half of all schools may have problems with indoor air quality and while there are very expensive ways to fix school environments such as replacing heating and ventilating systems and removing asbestos and lead there are other things we can do to affect indoor air quality that everyone can and should do, and cost far less. For instance, we know mold infestations can provoke serious health problems. Fixing roof and plumbing leaks early can keep classrooms dry and reduce the likelihood of molds growing indoors. Carpets are commonly put in classrooms with small children, but studies have found that unless carpets are heavily cleaned on a regular basis they retain dirt. Using durable, hard surface flooring makes schools easy to keep clean; removing water-damaged or old carpeting helps eliminate threats to indoor air quality.
Another way to improve indoor air quality is to use certified green cleaning products that reduce or eliminate perfumes and toxic chemicals. Fully 25 percent of chemicals in the cleaning products used in schools are toxic and contribute to poor indoor air quality, smog, cancer, asthma, and other diseases.
Finally, the simplest changes to make in any classroom are to phase out room deodorizers, keep food in the classroom to a minimum, ensure that windows are able to open easily and let fresh air in regularly and clean up classroom clutter. Leaving papers lying around and books stacked up create havens for dust and germs. Clutter-free surfaces are much easier to keep clean and thereby reduce risks to those with respiratory problems.
Taking these simple steps will help our children and the teachers and custodial staff who are charged with their care. Everyone in the school building on a regular basis will be better off if we improve indoor air and environmental quality. As we approach National Healthy Schools Day on April 11th it is time to focus on this important issue. Parents should ask questions of teachers, principals and school administrators about what steps they are taking to ensure high quality of indoor air quality in schools. Of course states and communities have to tighten their belts during this time of runaway deficits but sacrificing our children's health and learning is not an option. Now is the time to make our schools' indoor air quality a continuing priority.
For more information go to www.healthyschools.org.