Poor Indoor Air Quality in Schools and Its Relationship With Students’ Health


The quality of the indoor environment that students are subjected to is presumed to be a crucial determinant of wellbeing and consequently the performance of students. Indoor Air quality (IAQ) may cause illness amongst children in schools. Scholarly evidence continues to emerge linking IAQ with severe health symptoms, which can decrease the performance of children following their absenteeism in schools as they seek medical services. Additionally, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, IAQ may have direct impacts on the performance of children due to the failure of children to perform certain mental chores that require memory, concentration, and calculation (1). IAQ refers to various traits of air in the indoor environments including humidity, temperature, and presence of pollutants among others, which may influence the ability, comfort, performance, and health of an occupant negatively (Shaughnessy 465). This paper scrutinizes evidence on the relationships between air quality in school and health of the students.


The characteristics of indoor air may influence the health of students in a myriad of ways. The paper hypothesizes that poor IAQ impairs the performance of students in schools by affecting their health. The criterion for accepting or rejecting the hypothesis relies on the analysis of the evidence on the link between IAQ and health problems among the US school-going children.

Relating Students’ Health with IAQ

Scholars have identified indoor air pollution as an incredible factor that may lead to health problems not only to children but also to the public. Although the subject of indoor IAQ has not been given adequate attention over the last three decades, there is now increasing evidence based on scientific researches that IAQ can have negative implications of the health of children in schools. For instance, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established that pollutant contained in the indoors air may have five times more effects on people in comparison to equal levels of pollutants in the outdoor environment (2). In the healthcare practice, these findings are incredible since the Department of Health estimates that many people spend about 90% of their time in an indoor environment (Para.3). Further researches of the impacts of IAQ on people’s health classify “indoor pollution in the rank of four top most environmental hazards that pose health risks to the public” (Shaughnessy 467). In the school setting, indoor health problems are attributed to a number of factors including poor classroom ventilation, mold growths on ceilings damaged by water, walls, and carpets, growth of microbial organisms on carpets, chemical pills, exhaust fumes for instance in the laboratories, and challenges associated with remodeling among others. Research on the IAQ at Vermont schools conducted by general accounting office survey revealed that more than 25% of the schools have poor IAQ while 32% had poor ventilation systems (Department of Health Para.6). This evidences the possibility of health risks in classrooms posed by poor IAQ in American schools.

IAQ problems pose health risks to children. The health issues are manifested in the form of indistinguishable signs as opposed to plainly defined ailments. Such symptoms encompass fatigue, breath shortness, headache, nausea, skin irritation, eyes irritation, throat irritation, nose irritation, and dizziness (Department of Health Para.12). However, these symptoms may be accounted for by some other factors but not necessarily IAQ challenges. Such factors include environmental stressors including improper noise, overcrowding, and emotional stress. However, the threshold of manifestation of these symptoms may be amplified when children are exposed to IAQ problems. Since students are different in terms of response to foreign matters, some may react in a more pronounced manner to IAQ problems in relation to others. This variation may explain why some schoolchildren may show the symptoms of poor IAQ in schools while others do not show the symptoms, yet they are put in the same class environment. Hence, cases of complaints associated with poor IAQ may be widespread among a particular school’s population.

According to EPA, IAQ is associated with respiratory health problems such as asthma. Matters articulated to “maintenance problems in schools among them being mold growth, uncontrolled use of chemicals for cleaning purposes, and excessive moisture can trigger allergies and asthma” (EPA 3). In this extent, asthma is a health risk factor whose degree of impacts on children in school is escalated by poor IAQ. The manifestation of these problems in school-going children is emphasized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings that asthma is the leading single cause of absenteeism in the US (Para.3). The significance of this finding in relating IAQ with health challenges and performance of children in schools is well evidenced by the contentment of several scholars that the performance of children declines with an increase in levels of children illnesses and or absence in schools (Silverstein and Mair 278). The relationship between IAQ and heath in schools can also be explained by the results achieved upon carrying out certain maintenance practices in classrooms in the effort to enhance better IAQ. For instance, Moonie and Sterling argue that most of the schools in the US and Europe have their ventilation well below the recommended levels (141). Indeed, with regard to a study that was conducted in California, the results indicated that 33% of the schools studied have their ventilation level less than 50% of the recommended levels (EPA 7).

Based on the results of the above study, it is clear that the prevalence for low ventilation levels in Europe and the US coupled with the hiking evidence that both indoor and outdoor standards of air ventilation have pronounced heath effects on students and their performance. Therefore, an opportunity for developing guidelines for IAQ management coupled with the design for school facilities is an urgent issue. Designing classrooms to have proper ventilation produces impacts such as a reduction of transmission and absence of infectious diseases thus enhancing the overall productivity of tutors (EPA 7). Tailoring classrooms to have better ventilation also “…improves test scores and students’ performance in completing mental tasks” (Silverstein and Mair 279).

In a study conducted by Shaughnessy, students in a classroom, which has higher outdoor ventilation, scored between 14% and 15% higher in a standardized test in comparison to children in classrooms that had lower outdoor ventilation (466). These findings indicate that good IAQ is essential in enhancing not only the health of children in schools but also their performance in standardized test. EPA identifies various risk factors to health problems in children while at the school environment (2). The source further claims, “Evidence from schools that various environmental conditions are closely associated with the incidence of objectively measurable adverse health effects are rapidly emerging” (EPA 2). IAQ’s challenge due to various biological contaminants results in allergic infection and respiratory diseases. Factors that relate with buildings among them being indoor pollutions are intimately related to various respiratory illness observed in schoolchildren (Shaughness 466). These factors include the presence of microbiological pollutants, water systems damages, animals coupled with other biological allergens, nitrogen dioxide, and products dissipated upon combustion of products within school compounds, which find their way into poorly ventilated classrooms. Moisture contained in the HAVC systems, vehicle exhaust gaseous products within school compounds, and formaldehyde that is contained in the cleaning of chemical also find their way into classrooms, which lead to health problems among children in case they are poorly ventilated (Shaughness 467).

Based on the discussion of the relationship between indoor air quality and health of students, it sounds imperative to presume that the most viable solution is to restrain and manage the causative agents of both indoor air pollutions and other causes of indoor pollution coupled with enhancement of ventilation. Arguably, taking this step will not only enhance the health of children in schools but also their performance (EPA 9). This case requires enactment of an appropriate school maintenance program that would keep a close check on the likely building related risk factors. In fact, according to Silverstein and Mair, “…a well structured maintenance program forms the cornerstone of academic performance and IAQ” (281). This proposition implies that school management has to compromise setting priorities for allocation of funds to various activities. Therefore, the quest to enhance the health of children via funding building maintenance to reduce incidents of health problem puts school boards at tighter financial corners especially during the times when they are required to operate under tight financial budgets. During such times, a maintenance budget is taken more often as soft money meaning that the expense could be cut while academic program remains minimally impacted. In the context of the arguments raised in the above sections, this step is perhaps not the only option. Academic performance is argued as being directly correlated to health conditions of the children while at school. Since maintenance can help in reducing the risk factors for contracting the illness if children learn in classes that meet ventilation requirements, maintenance needs not to be compromised on the grounds of treating it as a cost cutting strategy. In the event this effort is accomplished, the direct relationship between IAQ and students health is invoked. The impact is reduced performance of the students due to absenteeism accruing from health problems derived from learning in an environment that has low indoor air quality.


Indoor air quality is an essential factor to consider when designing classrooms because it relates with health conditions of students as discussed in the paper. This relationship is drawn from the scholarly evidence that the causative agents for such heath problems among students flourish well in a polluted indoor environment, which has poor ventilation. Mold growth and other biological allergens are identified in the paper as some of the causative agents for health problems in a dumpy building. Therefore, the paper argued that maintenance is an equally significant aspect that should not be forfeited by schools in the effort to fund other activities. Through advancement of this argument, the paper confirms the hypotheses that poor IAQ impairs the health of students and hence their performance since students are required to miss school to seek treatment for health problems related to poor IAQ.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Healthy Youth!, 2009. Web.

Department of Health. Air quality in schools, 2011. Web.

Moonie, Stephen, and Arthur Sterling. “The relationship between school absence, academic performance, and asthma status.” Journal of School Health 78.4(2008): 140-148. Print.

Shaughnessy, Johnston. “A preliminary study on the association between ventilation rates in classrooms and student performance.” Indoor Air 16.6(2006): 465-468. Print.

Silverstein, Martins, and Douglas Mair. “School attendance and school Performance: A population-based study of children with asthma.” Journal of Pediatrics 139.2(2001): 278-283. Print.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Indoor air quality and student performance. US: Indoor environmental division office of radiation and indoor air, 2003. Print.

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