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Protecting Children from School Air Pollution

“School building conditions have been neglected for decades,” said national Coalition coordinator Claire L Barnett. “But schools and their communities can help by using US EPA’s voluntary guidance on effective interventions. EPA has the authorizations and the proven programs to help schools address complex facility issues. When children have school-induced asthma, headaches, nausea, and bloody noses, attendance and test scores drop, families are extra-stressed, and health care costs rise. With robust funding from congress, EPA can activate Biden’s languishing Clean Air in Schools challenge with expanded national outreach and technical assistance to states and schools and communities. Congress could help lift standardized test scores and reduce health care costs if it appropriates $100M to EPA’s office of air for school indoor air and $10M to EPA’s office of children’s health for research and health services.”

Q: Why Does EPA Need $100M for Clean Air in Schools?
​​​​​​​A: Because children can’t learn without it.

  1. Three national reports (see below for recaps)– US GAO in 2020, and CDC and (re)Build America’s Schools Coalition both released this month– underscore the pressing need to fund US EPA Indoor Environments Division/Indoor Air program to address the lack of breathable indoor air in our nation’s classrooms. In years past, EPA’s national and regional education and training grants educated communities and elected officials and led to dozens of states adopting new policies, regulations, and sending new funds to local public schools to address the dire environmental conditions that impede learning, attendance, and behavior.
  2. President Biden handed EPA a Clean Air Challenge for schools and offices in 2022 with no new money. The current funding for EPA Clean Air in Schools is in the Inflation Reduction Act: $50 Million over ten years, a ridiculously low amount.
  3. Sixteen years ago in 2007, the National Research Council reported that school facilities could promote and support children’s health and learning outcomes if the schools were clean, dry, quiet, free of dusts and particulates, had good indoor air and thermal comfort. It also noted those attributes reduce asthma, colds, and flu. Today, most school are not clean, dry, and quiet, and do not have clean indoor air.
  4. Finally, the nation’s schoolhouses are neither climate nor pandemic ready, putting eight (8) Billion FT2 of learning space valued at over $3 Trillion at risk of severe damage or total loss and children and staff at elevated risk of novel infections.

WHAT YOU CAN DO. Tell the US Senate Appropriations committee to allocate $100M to EPA’s Indoor Environments Division for indoor air/environments in schools. Comment in writing due Wednesday, May 24:


Three Expert Reports

US Government Accountability Office, June 2020,  School Districts Frequently Identified Multiple Building Systems Needing Updates or Replacement 

“About half (an estimated 54 percent) of public school districts need to update or replace multiple building systems or features in their schools, according to GAO’s national survey of school districts. For example, an estimated 41 percent of districts need to update or replace heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in at least half of their schools, representing about 36,000 schools nationwide that need HVAC updates (see figure). In about half of the 55 schools GAO visited in six states, officials described HVAC-related problems, such as older systems that leaked and damaged flooring or ceiling tiles”. 

Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 7, 2023   Ventilation Improvements Among K–12 Public School Districts — United States, August–December 2022

“Many public school districts have not taken steps to improve school building ventilation. Equitable access and support might be needed to assist school districts in their efforts to prevent respiratory infections through ventilation improvements.”

(re)Build America’s School Infrastructure Coalition report (April 2023) on the challenges school districts are facing with supply chain shortages and contracting issues, including state agency capacity issues. Healthy Schools Network is a member of the Coalition.

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