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Air Quality Awareness Week 2024: Asthma and Your Health

Yesterday, we wrote about how wildfires can affect indoor air and how you can control that to protect your health and safety (and that of your family, if applicable). Today is World Asthma Day, and that is the topic of our second blog for Air Quality Awareness Week 2024!


First, we want to acknowledge and thank Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) for their blog that does a great job highlighting how indoor air quality can reduce asthma triggers and protect health. In our blog, we’ll take the liberty of going further into detail and looking at this through the lens of school attendance.


Chronic illness is a significant absence reason and is primarily driven by asthma (https://www.epa.gov/asthma/asthma-awareness).


The ADPH blog points out that respiratory infections can trigger asthma, just as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America will tell you.


But here’s a bombshell: Did you know that respiratory infections can also increase the risk of new-onset asthma in children?


Vaccines can provide important but only partial protection against potentially life-long lung impacts from respiratory viruses.


Schools need to ventilate with outdoor air in order to stop respiratory viruses from causing absences, triggering asthma, and causing new-onset asthma in children. Outdoor air dilutes the burden of infectious aerosols in densely occupied spaces and can reduce the number of people who will be infected by a sick student.


The EPA’s theme for Air Quality Awareness Week 2024 is “Knowing Your Air”. So, how can you know if your school is doing right by students and giving them adequate outdoor air? Unfortunately, your school may not even know, even if they think they do. But you can find out.


Because the people inside of a school building are generally the main source of carbon dioxide, you can tell whether outdoor air is making it to a given classroom by measuring whether the carbon dioxide builds up to excessive numbers. Sensors like the Aranet4 can sit in a backpack and log CO2 concentration each day, to give a picture of whether the ventilation system is keeping up with the classroom.


What are acceptable levels of CO2?


Apart from outdoor air, schools should be moving to modern filtration recommendations: MERV 13 (or at least MERV 11) filters, not only to filter allergens out of incoming outdoor air, but also to clean viruses out of recirculated air. NEMI and UC Davis indicate that ventilation fans should be set to run continuously.


Lastly, CDC, and the US Green Buildings Council (USGBC) along with other experts, suggest portable in-room air filters (such as HEPA filters) as a way to provide adequate clean air to students.


Neither HVAC filters nor in-room air filters will change the CO2 concentration, so “Knowing Your Air” can be more complicated than measuring CO2. But CO2 is still a point of departure for figuring out the ventilation and air quality that students are being given.


We hope to see you here tomorrow as we we write about our next topic for Air Quality Awareness Week 2024: Air Quality and Climate!

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