As parents, we take great pride in ensuring our children are safe in school – from the food and snacks they eat to the water or drinks they consume to school activities they partake. It all makes sense but what about the air our children breathe in school? Do we know its safe?

As of fall of 2016, 50.4 million students will attend U.S. schools and be part of over 13,500 school districts and almost 100,000 public schools. According to the National Center for Educational Studies (NCES), approximately $584 billion will be spent on their education. With 20,000 breaths taken each day, children attending school collectively breathe over 336 Billion breaths a day. A scary proposition – especially when the average school buildings were constructed more than 44 years ago. Because of the age and poor conditions of school buildings, indoor air quality is a huge concern – particularly because it has been shown to affect health and performance of students.

“The East Pennsboro School District has announced that it’s closing all schools today as school officials are assessing the mold problem.” – August 24, 2016

What causes poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools?

Research suggests that schools physical environment as well a host of other reasons can cause poor indoor air quality in schools such as:

  • Leaky roofs
  • Problems & toxic leaks with heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems
  • Excessive use of toxic airborne cleaning chemicals
  • Schools art & science supplies
  • Insufficient cleaning causing mold buildup
  • Exposure to outdoor pollution and airborne toxins including various hydrocarbons
  • Portable classrooms and/or buildings that were not part of the original school building usually can have higher levels of indoor air pollutants

Health Concerns when in School

Poor indoor air quality in school has raised serious health issues including coughing, eye irritation, headache, allergic reactions, an array of respiratory conditions, asthma and in rare cases, life-threatening conditions such as Legionnaire’s disease, pneumonia or carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Wyoming Midwest School Closes for the Semester Due to High Levels of Benzene and Carbon Dioxide” – Oct 31, 2016

Students who are more Susceptible

There are groups of students that may be more susceptible to poor indoor air quality because of specific health conditions such as:

  • Asthma, allergies, or chemical sensitivities
  • Respiratory diseases;
  • Suppressed Immune Systems
  • Contact Lenses
  • Students with heart diseases
  • Students with high levels of nitrogen dioxide

If you had to rush your child to the emergency room or your child was not able to attend school, a school event or be allowed to go outdoors due to the impact of air quality, you know how it feels – and you are not alone! One research in 2011 conducted in North Carolina found that 22% of absentees in schools were a result of respiratory illnesses. 

Other research also indicates that absenteeism due to poor indoor air quality in schools is significant and costly.  According to CDC, loss of productivity resulting from missed school accounts for over $1 billion a year!

“Still no sign of Flash Ley School reopening – one year after toxic gas find” – Oct 14, 2016

Uncovering the world of Nanotechnology Gas Sensors

Although until now there was no clear way of knowing the toxins in the air we breathe, new and upcoming nanotechnology is making a disruptive attempt to bring Nano gas sensors to the consumer market. These minuscule sensors are being developed to be able to detect toxic airborne gases. Applications include monitoring indoor and outdoor air pollution, food quality and spoilage detection, monitoring industrial toxins for worker and environment safety, detecting mold and fungi and much more. These Nano gas sensors may someday be able to provide indication for early disease detection for diseases including Diabetes, Cancer, Alzheimer, Parkinson’s and more!

With nanotechnology gas sensors, air quality, air pollution and airborne toxins will be detected within seconds of exposure. This will allow for immediate action – as simple as airing out the classroom, moving into another room, minimizing or ceasing the use of certain toxic school supplies and most importantly, informing school authorities to do something about ventilation and/or other HVAC systems that may be causing harmful gases in school environments.  In extreme cases, closing schools for a period of time to fix air quality problems.  

Perhaps in the near future nanotechnology gas sensors will be able to tell what’s in the surrounding air we breathe the same way we are able to read the nutritional labels on the foods we eat. Perhaps this will ensure a healthier and much more productive school experience.