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Before we can understand how indoor air quality impacts our lungs, we first need to understand how our lungs work. When you breathe in through your nose or mouth, air travels down your airways or trachea, dividing into your right or left lung via the bronchi. The bronchi then separate into small tubes called bronchioles. Like tree branches, bronchioles divide into thousands of even smaller passages. At the end of each bronchiole is a cluster of little air sacs called alveoli. Alveoli are wrapped in tiny blood vessels called capillaries. The air you breathe in fills these air sacks with oxygen-rich air. Here is where oxygen is transported throughout the body. Not all the air you breathe in is clean. Indoor air contaminants can include small particles that are suspended in the air. When those particles from the air travel deep into your body, they can have a negative impact on your health. These particles can include things like dust, tobacco smoke, diesel emissions, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, chemicals, gases, and more.
Particulate matter, often written as PM, are so small they go into the lungs all the way to the alveoli. Once there, they can irritate and corrode the alveoli wall, damaging the lungs and causing lung disease. Healthier in schools can benefit students, teachers, and other school staff. Clean air can improve health, alertness, attention, test scores, and comfort for both students and teachers, but not all the air we breathe in school is clean. School air may have several pollutants, including mold, bacteria and viruses, chemicals from glues, paint or cleaning supplies, particulate matter from chalk dust, soil, new furniture, cooking, carpets, heaters, and wood stoves. Also, polluted outdoor air from busy traffic, nearby factories, and wildfires can come inside the school.
To improve the indoor air quality in your school, remove the source of the air pollution if you can. Prevention is best. Air out your classroom by opening doors and windows. Filter the air with an air cleaner. Air cleaners take in the room's air and capture particles, viruses, and many chemicals. The air cleaners then release clean air back into the room. Learning how to protect yourself from poor air quality doesn't have to be hard. Visit lung.org to learn more.
We all want children and teachers to be safe at school. But there are some dangers—such as air pollution—that are not always obvious. Air pollution in schools can affect how children learn and harm their growing lungs. It can also cause health problems for faculty and staff. You can help protect your family and your community by learning more about keeping the air in schools clean and healthy.
Schools face some special challenges in providing healthy indoor air for children, staff and faculty. School buildings are crowded places. They typically have four times as many occupants per square foot as office buildings. The multiple uses of school space, including classrooms, cafeterias, gyms, art rooms and labs mean many potential sources of indoor air problems. School budgets are often tight, which can affect regular maintenance and cleaning practices, and may defer major repairs like leaking roofs for years.
Protecting Yourself From Air Pollution at School
Are you concerned about the quality of the air in your school? If you or your child has health symptoms, such as sneezing, coughing or headaches that are worse during the school day and improve at home, you may have an indoor air pollution problem. Learn more about recognizing indoor air problems.
For more information about how to work with schools to provide a healthy school environment, check out the American Lung Association’s Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program.
Page last updated: March 28, 2023