TU's 'Tools for Schools' Program Awarded EPA Grant

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $52,758 to The University of Tulsa’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools program to assist the Austin (Texas) Independent School District in improving air quality for 42,000 students, teachers and support staff.

TU’s Indoor Air Research Program has received international recognition because of its expertise in taking the EPA’s Tools for Schools (TFS) program checklists and tailoring them to meet each individual district’s needs. The Austin Independent School District contacted TU directly for help in overcoming its indoor air issues because of the positive things the district had heard about TU’s research.

This is not the first time a school district has reached out to TU for assistance in implementing a TFS program. School districts from 13 states and 25 counties have worked with TU for solutions to their air quality problems, including a district in Mississippi hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since 2003, 1.5 million students and school staff have been a part of TU’s research on indoor air quality through the TFS program.

Growing research shows that indoor pollution in schools can have damaging effects on academic performance due to an increased risk of short-term health problems, such as fatigue and nausea, as well as long-term problems like asthma, which can all cause attendance and concentration problems for students and teachers.

“One of our primary emphases related to our current research focuses on gathering data to assess the association between enhanced indoor air quality in a school and student academic performance,” said Dr. Richard Shaughnessy, TU chemical engineering research associate and IAQ program director.

Few federal regulations exist regarding school indoor environments, attended by over 50 million children in more than 90,000 schools, Shaughnessy said. Few states regulate the indoor school environment, and fewer still have a minimum ventilation standard for schools. Faced with budgetary and subsequent custodial/maintenance staff shortages, schools may not have the resources or knowledge base to protect the health of children from resultant poor IAQ.

“Documentation and research are critical to justify Indoor Air Quality improvements in schools as a means to increase student performance,” Shaughnessy said.

TU’s Tools for Schools program is twofold: the first part provides outreach training to raise awareness and educate teachers, school staff and custodians on the importance of indoor air quality. The second part involves data collection in the form of questionnaires collected from key groups in each school system. Back at TU, the data is input and synthesized into a report for each school and for the district as a whole.

The IAQ report provides a baseline reading on the school’s air quality, identifies areas of concern and provides feedback on how the district can improve air quality in ways that are both economic and achievable.

About 60 schools in Austin will participate in the initial data collection with the possibility of more schools involved in the future. Shaughnessy estimates TU’s IAQ analysis will last three to four years as the program is extended to other district schools.

The IAQ research team at TU also conducts an Asthma Outreach Program to work with nurses to educate the public on environmental safety and health in homes. The team also has begun a flooring study to research the effects of different flooring material, such as carpet or linoleum, on air quality in schools.

For more information, contact the TU IAQ Research Department at (918) 631-5246.