School Advisory from California Classrooms Study
The environmental conditions in classrooms can have a major impact on students’ and teachers’ health and productivity. In 2004, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Department of Health Services (DHS, now the California Department of Public Health (CDPH)) completed a study of the environmental health conditions in California’s portable and traditional classrooms, and found a number of widespread problems that needed to be addressed. The majority of the problems identified in the study could be remedied quickly at little or no cost, while others would require planning and budgeting by schools. Below are some key suggestions and links to help schools and school districts assure a healthful and productive learning environment for their students.
How do we know if we have a problem? Where do we start?
- First, assess your school’s indoor environmental conditions. There are some easy-to-use tools available free of charge that can help you conduct your own assessment.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools resources;
- New mobile app for schools from EPA — The School IAQ Assessment Mobile app is a “one-stop shop” for accessing EPA’s comprehensive school IAQ management tool;
- Los Angeles Unified School District’s “Safe School Inspection Guidebook”, which was revised in 2015. LAUSD officials have determined that many basic health and safety problems can be remedied by custodians or other school personnel, generally at little or no additional cost.
- Be sure your school complies with current State workplace regulations, especially those related to mechanical ventilation and sanitation and moisture intrusion (see especially item “g” on mold). For assistance with interpreting and meeting workplace regulations, contact Cal/OSHA’s consultation service.
- Prepare a plan for addressing problems found in your self-assessment, using EPA's planning process or other similar approaches to develop the plan. Set a schedule for tackling the most critical problems, and put someone in charge to see that they are addressed.
Are there specific ways to establish and maintain healthy classrooms?
Yes, some key actions can go far to assure a healthful environment. It is important to address each of the following activities:
- Operations and Maintenance
- Provide sufficient ventilation to the classroom, per Cal/OSHA regulations , and the State Energy Code Title 24 regulations (visit the appropriate standard, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2013 or 2016, depending on the year the classroom was built). Assure that ventilation systems are not too noisy (under 45 decibels): ask for help from the manufacturer, if needed.
- Provide or obtain training for district and school facility managers on building design, maintenance and operations. Start by visiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools website, which includes on-demand training webinars. Proper cleaning and vacuuming techniques for custodial staff are important, and teachers can learn to avoid pollutant sources in the classroom by using these EPA tools.
- Reduce the use of pesticides and noxious cleaning products. Implement an Integrated Pest Management Program.
- Order materials and products that emit little or no formaldehyde and other potentially harmful chemicals. Specify products that meet California’s Section 01350 emissions requirements.
- Furnishings such as desks or bookcases that use pressed wood products (such as particleboard or plywood) must meet CARB’s emission limits for formaldehyde.
- Do not allow the use in classrooms of room deodorizers (especially plug-ins), candles, hair spray, or other unnecessary products that can emit harmful chemicals. If portable air cleaning devices are used they must be certified by CARB as meeting the State ozone emission limit. Also, see CARB’s Air Cleaner Information For Consumers page.
What about new schools and renovation projects?
- Design and Construction
- All new construction and major renovations must meet California’s Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen).
- When planning and constructing new schools or renovating classrooms, see the Collaborative for High Performance Schools’ (CHPS) Best Practices Manual sections on school siting, materials selection, and ventilation. Make all new construction and modernization projects CHPS certified.
- Specify no- or low-formaldehyde building materials and furnishings that meet CARB’s compressed wood emission limits and the Section 01350 emissions limits for gaseous chemicals.
- Specify low noise, energy efficient ventilation systems and lighting systems (under 45 decibels combined). Teachers cannot teach with noisy mechanical systems in their rooms: the added incremental cost of low noise systems is well worth the investment.