Parents often joke about their child care facility being a petri dish for the next illness making the rounds, or how attendance strengthens a young immune system as kids become exposed to, well, everything. The joke is directed at the habits of young children coughing/slobbering on each other, etc., and is less about the actual condition/performance of the child care facility. So, drooling and unwashed hands aside, what does the indoor air quality (IAQ) look like in a home-based preschool?
Both of my daughters attended a preschool for a few years before the air was tested. I had never worried about the environment there, and no one was complaining about anything. I offered to conduct an IAQ test because I was curious and because I work for a company that manufactures an air quality monitor. I wasn't expecting what came next, and I was just as surprised as anyone.
What happens to indoor air quality when many people occupy a space designed for only a few?
Maybe the short answer is: More of everything. Imagine if you have a vehicle with four seat belts. It has the capacity to safely transport 4 occupants, but not 12. Whether by design or not, every space has a capacity for providing fresh clean air to some number of people. Building codes address this, right? Well yes, for newly constructed homes as well as for commercial spaces. However, many daycare/preschool businesses are operated out of old, single family homes and therefore fall outside of these requirements. These are homes that may not have any ventilation or adequate filtration system in the first place, which was the case for this preschool.
How can improvements to indoor air quality affect health?
That's not really the question we set out to answer when we started this project, but the answer was loud and clear: one teacher was able to stop taking medications for allergies/asthma as a result of the improvements. As for the children, we may never know the full positive impact. The real takeaway is that you may not notice an IAQ issue in your home, but you can suffer from the consequences. Don't be surprised if you notice a difference after improvements are made.
What should I do if I think there's an IAQ problem at my child's school?
Express your concerns to the owner privately. Share what you've learned and ask questions about what has been done to understand the facility’s IAQ. Be ready to listen. Remember to be nice. Many people have never even thought about airborne particulate matter or airborne chemicals, or seen a magnified image of a dust mite. It's important to express your concern calmly, but what can be even more effective is to have a few options for the owner to consider. For instance, a contractor that you can recommend. The good news is that most IAQ issues are simple to fix. The key is to know what you're dealing with in the first place, and there are plenty of contractors out there that can help.
See the full Indoor Air Quality Retrofit for Preschool case study by clicking here.