Here are some common issues, and questions to ask the school principal or vice principal to find out how good the air is in your child’s school.
Issue No. 1: Unsanitary conditions can attract insects and vermin, leading to the use of pesticides, which contain hazardous chemicals.
Questions to ask: Is trash removed daily? Is food kept in the classroom overnight?
Issue No. 2: Carpet, rather than hard floors, contains moisture which attracts dust mites and can promote the growth of mold. Allergens such as pollen, dust and animal dander can be hard to clean out of carpet.
Questions to ask: What type of flooring is in the classrooms and libraries? How are they cleaned, and how often?
Issue No. 3: Animals in the classroom can aggravate asthma and cause allergic reactions.
Questions to ask: Are pets kept in the classroom? Are they kept near ventilation systems (which could circulate fur and dander)? Even if asthma and dander are less of an issue: Are cages cleaned regularly?
Issue No. 4: Some solvents, inks, glues, varnishes and paints used in arts and crafts emit toxic chemicals.
Questions to ask: Are the supplies used non-toxic? Are they stored in tightly sealed containers?
Issue No. 5: Science experiments in high school often require toxic substances.
Questions to ask: How well is the science lab ventilated? Where possible, are diluted substances used? Are the substances stored outside the class?
Issue No. 6: The dust from chalk can cause asthma symptoms, and whiteboard markers can emit volatile organic compounds.
Questions to ask: If there are blackboards in the classroom, is low-dust chalk used? In the case of whiteboards, are the markers low-VOC? Could an overhead projector (with odourless markers) or a Smart Board (computerized whiteboard) be used instead?
Issue No. 7: Locker rooms, with their potential for humidity, standing water, and damp, dirty clothing, can be breeding grounds for mold. Also, disinfectants must be used, but appropriately.
Questions to ask: Are exhaust fans used to remove moisture? Are chemical cleaners and disinfectants used when the rooms are not occupied, and sprayed on surfaces, rather than in the air?
To find out how seriously a school takes its indoor air quality, you can even ask to see a log of the number of filter changes on the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system in the last six months.
Six More Questions to Ask:
• Is there a no-idling policy for school bus drivers and parents?
• Are there barrier floor mats at school entrances to collect dust and allergens? How often are they cleaned, and is a vacuum with a HEPA filter used?
• Are the least hazardous cleaning supplies used, and is work with toxic and odorous materials done when the school is not occupied by students?
• Is the area ventilated well afterward?
• Is a scent-free policy in effect?
• What system is in place to check for mold?
Resources for Schools
– The Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor Air Quality: Tools for Schools Action Kit.
– Health Canada’s Tools for Schools/ Action Kit for Canadian Schools
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