Building a business
How’s the air you breathe?
Anyone running a business today sooner or later encounters air
quality issues. Poor air quality isn’t just unpleasant;
it can be bad for business.
Failure to prevent or respond promptly to air quality problems can harm the health
of children and staff, strain relationships with parents, force your facility
to close or relocate, create negative publicity, and raise the possibility of
Most indoor air quality problems can be prevented and resolved by you and your
staff through simple, inexpensive measures. The cost and effort needed to prevent
most indoor air quality problems is much less than that to resolve problems once
Symptoms of indoor air quality problems
Indoor air quality problems may affect several children and staff
or just one individual, depending on sensitivity. Young children
may be more affected than adults. The most susceptible children—and
adults—include those with asthma, allergies, respiratory
illness, and suppressed immune systems.
Symptoms commonly attributed to poor indoor air quality include:
headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath,
sinus congestion, coughing and sneezing,
eye, nose, throat, and skin irritations, or
dizziness and nausea.
Linking symptoms to air quality can be tricky, but be alert to
one or more of the following clues.
Are symptoms widespread within a class or the school?
Do symptoms disappear when children and staff leave the building
for a day or an extended time?
Do symptoms occur suddenly after some change such as painting
or pesticide application?
Do symptoms occur inside but not outside?
If in doubt, refer affected children and staff to a doctor. Consult
with health professionals and building contractors to identify
the sources of pollutants and remove them.
Indoor air pollutants can arise inside the building or come in
from outdoors. See the box at right.
How to prevent problems
In Caring for Our Children, the National Resource Center for
Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education recommends
Open windows whenever possible (Standard 5.027).
Indoor air is sometimes more polluted than outdoor air. Air circulation
is essential to clear the air of infectious disease agents, odors,
and toxic substances.
Heat, cool, and ventilate all rooms children use to maintain
the proper temperature, humidity, and air exchange (Standard
During summer, the ideal temperature is 68 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
During winter, the ideal temperature is 65 to 75 degrees. The
year-round humidity should be 30 to 50 percent. Air exchange
should be a minimum of 15 cubic feet per minute per person.
High humidity can promote the growth of mold, mildew, and other
biological agents. You can measure humidity with simple and inexpensive
devices that you can buy in hardware stores or in educational
supply stores that specialize in science products.
Clean or replace HVAC filters according to the manufacturer’s
instructions (Standard 5.031).
Clogged filters will hinder air circulation. High quality filters
can trap particles and microorganisms.
Have HVAC systems inspected before each heating and cooling
season by a professional HVAC contractor (Standard 5.032).
Routine inspections and proper operation can ensure that equipment
works properly. A contractor can arrange to test air exchange
and air quality.
Prohibit smoking by staff and visitors. (Standard 3.041).
Scientific evidence has linked respiratory illness to secondhand
smoke. Infants and young children exposed to secondhand smoke
are at risk for bronchitis, pneumonia, and middle ear infections
when they have respiratory infections.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers the following
guidelines in its IAQ Tools for Schools
Make sure your facility is regularly and thoroughly cleaned.
Dirt, moisture, and warmth stimulate the growth of molds and
other biological agents. Unsanitary conditions attract insects
Vacuum carpet and floor mats ever day after children have gone
home. Use vacuum bags made of material that will not permit the
escape of particles 3 microns in size and smaller.
Dust with a wet cloth to prevent scattering dust in the air.
Be alert to any leaks or signs of moisture on plumbing, interior
surfaces, and roofs.
Stains and discolorations on ceilings, walls, and floors could
indicate a moisture problem.
Investigate odors. The need to use air fresheners may indicate
Follow licensing standards and local health guidelines for sanitizing
diapering areas and bathrooms.
Use art and schools supplies that are nontoxic.
Look for the seal of the Art and Creative Materials Institute,
which certifies that the product has been evaluated for hazards.
Or look for the words, “Conforms to ASTM D-4236,” which
indicates adherence to safety standards. Use products only as
Reduce the amount of dust and dirt by using floor mats at entrances.
Floor mats at entrances ideally allow people to make five full
steps on the mat, catching dirt that otherwise might be spread
throughout the school. Vacuum mats daily.
Control pests using an Integrated Pest Management Program.
See “Summer sanitation: Review basic practices to prevent
disease,” Texas Child Care, Summer 2005.
Properly dispose of wastes.
Line waste containers with plastic, and empty regularly. Use
waste containers that can be sealed tightly. Place waste containers
in well-ventilated rooms, but not close to HVAC equipment.
Locate dumpsters away from air intakes, doors, and open windows.
Position them where prevailing winds will carry odors away from
Redirect vehicle traffic to minimize exposure to emissions.
Cars and vans can expose children and staff to exhaust fumes.
Tell parents and bus drivers to avoid engine idling as much as
possible. Reroute traffic away from playgrounds, open windows,
and air intake of HVAC systems.
During building renovation and repair, guard against the potential
for indoor air quality hazards.
Demolition and construction can release many hazardous substances
including asbestos, mold, lead from old paint, solvent fumes,
fibers, and dust. Get more information from the Texas Department
of State Health Services, www.dshs.state.
Consider relocating children until renovation is complete, having
work done only when your facility is not occupied, walling off
construction areas, and other measures.
Select furnishings and equipment that won’t give off emissions,
and allow adequate time for out gassing before reoccupying the
Art and Creative Materials Institute, www.acminet.org.
National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care
and Early Education, Caring for Our Children, http://nrc.uchsc.edu/CFOC/XMLVersion/NewTOC/wosubs.xml.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Indoor
Air Quality Backgrounder: The Basics, www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/tfs/pdf_files/backgrounder.pdf.