August 5, 2008

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What you Need to Know About IAQ in Schools

Children spend a great deal of time indoors, particularly in schools. While a school building should be an ideal place for children to develop, thrive and learn, recent studies have found that poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is affecting children's health and their ability to learn.

According to the U.S. Department of Education nearly 73 million people in the U.S., including 68.5 million children (6 million of which have asthma), spend a significant amount of time each day in more than 120,000 public and private schools. Many of the school buildings are in poor condition, which accounts for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (US EPA) estimate that 50 percent of U.S. schools have IAQ problems.

Because children spend so much time at school, maintaining good IAQ in these environments is critical for minimizing their exposure to potentially dangerous indoor air pollutants. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to low-level chemicals may affect children. In a 2006 review study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine systematically examined publicly available data on chemicals with the goal of identifying the industrial chemicals that are neurotoxins and likely to damage developing brains. The researchers found that 201 commonly used industrial chemicals may affect millions of children worldwide. Visit for more information.

Researchers also have clear evidence that the quality of indoor air is a factor in causing asthma. A recent study, "Association of Domestic Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds with Asthma in Young Children," conducted by Rumchev K, Spickett J, Bulsara M et al., found that children exposed to high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were four times more likely to develop asthma than adults. Other studies have also found an association between VOCs and asthma in children. And, asthma cases are on the rise. Over a 14 year period the proportion of children under the age of five with asthma increased by 160 percent. This is a cause for concern as asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism and hospitalizations in children under the age of 15. An estimated 14 million lost school days and $16 billion in annual health care expenditures for both children and adults can be attributed to asthma.

Air Quality Sciences, Inc. (AQS) measured VOC levels in more than 200 U.S. schools and found 345 different VOCs in the indoor air. Table 1 lists the 15 most common VOCs found in these schools. Other frequently found VOCs of concern in schools include perchloroethylene and methylene chloride, potential carcinogens related to spot cleaners, degreasers and art supplies.

Table 1. Common VOCs found in schools      
VOC Source(s) VOC Source(s)
Toluene Cleaners, construction materials Hexanal Cleaners, adhesives, deodorizers
Xylenes Cleaners, construction materials 2-Butoxyethanol Wood cabinetry, cleaners, paints
Siloxanes Waxes, polishes, deodorants TXIB Cleaners, paints
Formaldehyde Furniture, ceiling tile, wood shelving, cabinetry Ethanol Disinfectants
Hexane Markers, cleaners Acetaldehyde Plastics, paints
Acetone Markers, art supplies Longifolene Cleaners, wood products, flooring
1,4 Dichlorobenzene Cleaners, deodorizers Naphthalene Adhesives, art supplies

Indoor air quality in schools affects more than children's health. Poor indoor air quality also affects chidren's ability to learn. As a part of its review and assessment of the health and productivity benefits of green schools, the National Research Council found "a robust body of evidence indicating that the health of children and adults can be affected by air quality in a school," and "a growing body of evidence [suggesting] that teacher productivity and student learning, as measured by absenteeism, may be affected by indoor air quality as well."

The National Research Council also noted that available research suggests an association between the condition of a school building and student achievement. For example, a study conducted by the University of Tulsa Indoor Air Program examined the ventilation rates in 55 fifth grade elementary school classrooms and student performance based on standardized math and reading tests. The results showed that increased ventilation rates had a significant impact on math and reading test scores. There was a 14.7 percent increase in math scores and a 13.7 percent increase in reading scores with improved ventilation.

In an effort to limit toxins released in the indoor environment, the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) introduced a cleaning standard for low-emitting cleaning chemicals and processes that takes the sensitive nature of school populations and the unique building characteristics and maintenance conditions found in schools into consideration. This standard presents the most rigorous product emissions criteria to date for cleaning chemicals based on established health criteria. Please visit to view this standard.

Additionally, through the GREENGUARD Children & Schools(SM) program, GEI certifies a large range of low-emitting products and materials used in sensitive environments such as daycare and school facilities. Products certified under GREENGUARD Children & Schools are tested for more than 2,000 chemicals including phthalates. For a complete list of GREENGUARD Children & Schools certified products visit

For more information please read "Protecting Children's Health" found at the Aerias - AQS IAQ Resource Center,, Premium Content tab, which includes the references cited in this article.

Ken Dillon Fellowship for Indoor Environmental Quality Design

The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) is excited to offer a $3,500 fellowship to a graduate or undergraduate student for the fourth year in a row. The Ken Dillon Memorial Fellowship for Indoor Environmental Quality Design encourages multidisciplinary study of indoor environments with a focus on indoor air quality and its effect on health and/or productivity.

The GEI is seeking student applicants interested in multidisciplinary study of the relationship between indoor air quality and public health in building design and construction. To request an electronic application for GEI's Ken Dillon Memorial Fellowship, students can send an email request to or call 1.800.427.9681. Applications will be accepted until November 14, 2008 at 5:00 PM EST.


The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute often serves as a resource for publications and media outlets, providing information on various topics that relate to product emissions and indoor air quality. The following lists recent articles and features.

Miami Herald
Painting for a Healthier Environment

Exchange Morning Post
Krug Receives ADEX Platinum Awards

Green Daily
Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman Made a Green Room for Sunday Rose
vivodepot shoots for a LEED® Gold Rating with kama Energy Efficient
Building Systems Panels

To read these and past articles, visit the Press Room/Articles under the 'About GEI' tab on the GEI website. Read More...

Upcoming Events

In the next few months, the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) will participate in several events.

IWF (Speaking)
August 20 - 23, 2008
Atlanta, GA

IFMA (Exhibiting)
October 15 - 17, 2008
Dallas, TX

NAEYC (Speaking)
November 5 - 8 2008
Dallas, TX

NSSEA (Speaking)
November 13-14 2008
Baltimore, MD

Greenbuild Expo 2008 (Speaking and Exhibiting)
November 19 - 21, 2008
Boston, MA

If you're going to Greenbuild this year be sure to mark your calendars for November 19th and join us at Ned Devines & Parris for GREENGUARD's Annual Pub Night.

For more information, please visit the Events tab listed under 'About GEI' and click on 2008 Calendar.

Continuing Education

The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) is proud to be a recognized USGBC Education Provider, and provides numerous Continuing Education Courses related to indoor air quality principles, including the following:

Healthy Indoor Air by Design
Credits: AIA (1LU), IDCEC (0.1 CEU), CSI (1-ECH), USGBC

Clearing the Air on IAQ: Making Sense of IAQ Standards and IEQ Requirements
Credits: AIA (1LU), IDCEC (0.1 CEU), CSI (1-ECH)

Building Blocks for Healthy Indoor Air
Credits: AIA (1LU), IDCEC (0.1CEU), USGBC

Design to Prevent the Damaging Effects of Mold
Credits: AIA (1LU), CSI (1-ECH)

The GEI is taking its Health, Safety and Human Welfare courses on the road to architecture and design firms, industry meetings, campuses and manufacturer showrooms across the country. If your firm or group is interested in learning more about these courses, please send a request to

© 2008 GREENGUARD Environmental Institute