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School Air Quality and Health: What You Should Know

Summer is the time when most school renovations are done, since a predominantly empty building presents fewer hurdles for contractors and fewer safety concerns for the occupants.  But construction projects don’t always wrap up on time and may linger into the school year, and even recently-completed work can impact the air quality in a structure.  Other school-related environmental concerns may have nothing whatsoever to do with construction. For example, shampooing the carpet in the summer time when the schools are in  energy savings mode (reducing HVAC usage) may lead to poor drying conditions, excess moisture and mold growth.

The most prominent health risks associated with school renovations have to do with the abatement of asbestos, mold or lead paint, and with good reason, as all have been associated with a variety of potentially serious health effects.  Even when a project is not directly associated with abatement of hazardous materials, air quality can suffer for any number of reasons from normal (or contaminated) construction dust to a release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paint or other finishes.

Your child may complain of health problems for many reasons that have nothing to do with the school environment or its air quality, so how do you tell whether the school is a cause for concern?  Please read the causation update for further information on how to identify if an agent may be causing the symptoms or condition. Following is a list of items that may indicate an association:

  • Your child displays recurring symptoms only at certain times of the day or certain days of the week
  • Other children in his or her classroom report similar reactions
  • Your child had a health issue in the prior school year that cleared up over the summer and then returned upon the start of school
  • The school has recently been remodeled or renovated
  • New equipment or materials have been introduced to a classroom

Other causes of air quality issues may be as varied as dust mites, animal dander introduced into a classroom environment, art supplies, a change in cleaning solutions, school bus fumes re-entrained into the school, or a nearby smoking area.

If you have concerns regarding the air quality in your child’s school, a discussion with the administration and the school nurse is a good first step.  They may be able to shed some light on the nature of recent renovations or other changes to the environment. 

For questions regarding air quality and other environmental concerns, contact the experts at Cogency at

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