Many schools are looking to close the achievement gap and foster learning among all students. Although processed foods, socio-economic conditions, ADHD, and learning disabilities are common culprits, environmental factors are often overlooked.
Is indoor air quality a missing ingredient in promoting learning, asks Zehnder America, a leading ventilation solutions firm.
The average elementary-aged child spends 940 hours in school each year. Thus, the indoor environment in schools is very important. In addition, the impact of indoor air quality is often more pronounced in children, due to their smaller size and relatively high respiration rates compared to adults. Many indoor air quality studies examine the impact of air quality on productivity in the workplace, and these findings can be applied to the classroom environment.
Indoor air quality has declined
Over the last 40 to 50 years, indoor air quality has declined due to several factors. Tightly constructed buildings and lower ventilation rates trap contaminants in the classroom.
Also, the increased use of toxic building supplies, furniture and cleaning products introduces pollutants into the air. Schools in disrepair may also have issues with mold, lead and asbestos.
Poor indoor air quality erodes learning
Although indoor air quality is commonly linked to health issues including asthma, allergies and respiratory ailments, its importance on cognitive function is often overlooked. In fact, workplace studies have shown that indoor air quality affects the ability to concentrate, mood and anxiety.
Longer exposure can even lead to personality changes, slower cognitive responses, and impaired memory.
A study by the National Institutes of Health found the effect of contaminated indoor air on work performance to be as high as 6 to 9 percent in associated productivity loss. A series of studies performed by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory discovered that carpeting with little ventilation reduced typing speed, typing accuracy and editing abilities by 4 percent for each variable.
Solution: Clean air in schools
Classrooms commonly have 50 to 300 volatile organic compounds present. There are a couple different ways to promote indoor air quality: prevent pollution at the source and dilute the contaminants with ventilation.
Schools can reduce the source of pollution by fixing water leaks to prevent mold growth and avoiding toxic cleaning supplies, furniture and finishes. Then a proper ventilation strategy will help keep humidity levels in check and exhaust contaminants.
The Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory study highlights that higher ventilation rates increase cognitive performance but the type of ventilation system can have a big impact on its effectiveness. Balanced ventilation systems exhaust stale, contaminated air while bringing in fresh air.
Zehnder heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) and energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) are used in many schools and are some of the most effective ventilation units on the market in boosting indoor air quality. These balanced ventilation systems supply a constant stream of clean, filtered air throughout schools — exhausting and diluting contaminants. The incoming air is filtered before entering the school.
Fine filters remove many common allergens and asthma triggers, such as pollen, mold spores, bacteria, and dust, promoting overall health and preventing illness.
Clean indoor air is a precious resource in classrooms, reducing absenteeism and boosting achievement. With a growing body of evidence, parents and educators are increasingly seeing the importance of clean classroom air to promote learning and overall health.