How You can Ensure the Healthy Indoor Air Quality in Our Schools Your Students and You Deserve
December 13, 2021
December 13, 2021
The pandemic has shown us that maintaining a healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) in school buildings is vital to the health of students and staff and needs to be a primary consideration moving forward. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends precautions to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of infectious diseases, including increasing ventilation with outdoor air and air filtration.
ASHRAE, formerly the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, frames the problem this way: “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 [the novel coronavirus] through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”
Broadly, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems move air in and out of buildings. Within this framework, HVAC systems can do a combination of things to the indoor air that students and educators breathe to counter airborne disease transmission: exhaust (remove) potentially contaminated air, dilute it with clean outside air, change the way it
flows in and out of indoor spaces, filter or otherwise clean it, and adjust environmental conditions like temperature and humidity.
Here are some ways local unions can use their collective power to ensure healthier learning and working conditions, from the National Education Association:
Create labor-management solutions. A joint IAQ committee should be in place at both the division and school level, tracking concerns and overseeing solutions.
Treat IAQ as an equity issue. Any and all solutions should include examining how racial and social inequities affect air quality issues in your school division.
Get school division reports on HVAC systems to establish a baseline. Educators should be able to find out where there are issues and be informed of conditions such as air change rate and humidity.
Conduct regular walkthroughs. A monthly walkthrough with Association reps, administrators, and HVAC experts is an excellent idea.
Increase outside airflow. Whenever it can be done safely, bringing in outside air dilutes contaminated air and decreases health risks from inhaling sufficient virus to cause illness. Fans can also be used to safely draw in fresh air from open windows and doors.
Run HVAC systems earlier and longer than usual. In pandemic conditions, experts recommend running these systems earlier and longer to more effectively remove potentially contaminated air.
Ensure that HVAC systems are professionally managed. This is important in achieving health-promoting goals, such as sufficiently frequent air changes, smooth mechanical functioning, maintaining negative pressure ventilation in high-risk areas, and proper filter use and changing.