Choose Safe Places: Indoor Air


Indoor air quality

When looking at indoor air quality, there are several things to think about.  Among these is whether your contaminants from nearby businesses such as nail salons or dry cleaners are being drawn into your facility.  Consider:

  • the building’s ventilation system,
  • businesses within the same building that may produce contaminants, and 
  • nearby businesses that may produce contaminants.

Contaminants from other businesses using harmful chemicals in the same building or nearby buildings can be harmful to staff and children in a child care setting. Businesses such as print shops, beauty or nail salons and dry cleaners use chemicals that can be harmful if breathed.

The heating and cooling system for a building includes all heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment serving the building.  Parts of heating and cooling systems include: furnaces or boilers, chillers, cooling towers, air handling units, exhaust fans, ductwork, filters, steam (or heating water) piping.

A properly designed and operating heating and cooling system can separate and remove contaminants through pressure control, filtration, and exhaust fans.

Contaminated air can be pulled in from an adjacent room in the same building or from a neighboring building.  Check the outdoor air intakes to see whether they are located near contaminant sources such as exhaust outlets, loading docks, or other locations where vehicles idle.

Controlling the pressure relationship in a building can keep contaminants away from other areas in the building.

  • If more air is put into to a room than is given off, the extra air leaks out of the space.  The room is said to be under positive pressure.
  • If less air is put into the room than is given off, air is pulled into the space.  The room is said to be under negative pressure.

It is important to make sure that areas of a building that might have contaminants are properly isolated.  These include attached parking garages and loading docks.

Air should be exhausted to the outdoors and not recirculated from locations which produce high concentrations of contaminants.

If you share space with other tenants in a strip mall, it is best to not share duct work of their heating and cooling system.  Have your own if possible.

Consult an indoor air professional if you have concerns about contaminants from a neighboring business being in your indoor air.  They may use chemical smoke to evaluate heating and air conditioning systems.  The smoke can track potential contaminant movement. Chemical smoke is sensitive to air currents and moves from areas of higher pressure to areas of lower pressure. Investigators can learn about airflow patterns by observing the direction and speed of smoke movement.

More information about building air quality can be found at this webpage.  

Why is indoor air quality important to childrens health?

Children and staff who have breathing difficulties are at increased risk of respiratory stress or asthma attacks when outdoor air quality is bad.   

Air pollution reduces air quality and thus is a major risk to health.  Air pollution causes to a number of health concerns such as asthma, allergies, lung disease, anxiety and depression.  Young children and people with preexisting respiratory medical conditions are especially vulnerable to air pollution.

The types and amount of air pollution you may breathe will vary by your location, the time of day, the temperature and the weather.

Some sources of air pollution are natural such as smoke from wildfires, pollen from plants, dander from pets, or spores from molds.  Many sources of air pollution are of our own making such as air pollution from burning coal, driving cars and trucks, and incinerating garbage.

How can air pollution affect children?

Air pollution problems in child care facilities can increase long- and short-term health problems for children.   Failure to have good indoor air quality can lead to health problems such as: 

·         Asthma attacks
·         Wheezing and cough
·         Shortness of breath
·         Headaches
·         Eye irritation
·         Shortness of breath
·         Susceptibility to infections

The EPA’s Indoor Air Quality in Schools webpage provides information and resources to maintain and improve indoor air quality in child care facilities as well as schools.  Proper maintenance of heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) systems is key to maintaining good indoor air quality.  Controlling moisture and pests are important to minimize allergens from mold or insects.  Testing your building for radon and the use of carbon monoxide detectors near combustion sources like boilers, stoves, or water heaters can protect children and staff from invisible dangers.  Using EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit will help ensure good indoor air quality in your child care facility.

Indoor air quality is particularly important for children with asthma.  Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the breathing airways caused by triggers such as allergens, irritants, and respiratory infections.  Symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or rapid breathing.  Asthma can be controlled by minimizing asthma triggers in the environment.  Keeping rooms clean and well ventilated will help minimize asthma triggers.  As will avoiding the use of harsh chemical cleaners or pesticides.  Parents are encouraged to provide the child care provider with an asthma action plan.   The Also visit CDC’s Tools for Asthma Control webpage.

EPA Tools for Schools Toolkit

The U.S. Environmental protection Agency's Tools for Schools program has long been a standard in providing helpful tools for maintaining good indoor air quality.  Their toolkit is available for download and is available as a mobile app.

A framework of technical solutions that defines the most common issues that child care facilities need to address to effectively manage indoor air quality risks is provided in the toolkit.  An indoor air quality program focusing on the seven technical solutions will deliver a healthier school environment.  The 7 technical solutions are:

•         Quality heating, ventilation and air conditioning
•         Control of moisture and mold
•         Strong integrated pest management
•         Effective cleaning and maintenance
•         Smart materials selection
•         Aggressive source control
•         Integrated energy management solutions

EPA Preventative Maintenance Guidance

Child Care operators can prevent many issues from becoming costly problems through preventative maintenance with thoughtful planning and regular maintenance for buildings and facilities.  EPA's Preventative Maintenence Guidance  will walk you through straight forward steps to develop and implement a sustainable indoor air quality preventative maintenance plan.

Additional resources  

US Environmental Protection Agency 
Creating Healthy Indoor Air Quality in Schools

Healthy Child Care