Indoor Air Resources

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IAQ 101: School is in Session

Sept 4 IAQ 101 School is in Session Small Image

By: Robert Martin, Associate Category Manager, Kimberly-Clark Professional Partnership Products  |   09.04.14

Our lesson today? Indoor air quality (IAQ) and its effect on student learning. Yes, a school’s IAQ directly impacts student academic performance and health. The good news is that upgrading your school’s air filtration system with filters that utilize electret-treated filter media may prove to be a simple and low-cost step toward improving the health of your school environment. 

Poor IAQ in schools has been linked to health problems among students, teachers and staff, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, allergy attacks, respiratory problems and sometimes life-threatening conditions such as Legionnaire’s disease and carbon monoxide poisoning. 

But one of the biggest problems linked to poor IAQ is asthma – a health problem that afflicts about 1 in 10 school-age children and is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism. And when kids are absent, they’re not learning. 

When IAQ is Good

Beyond reducing asthma symptoms, improving the indoor air quality in our nation’s schools is the right thing to do. According to the EPA, preventing or responding promptly to IAQ problems can:

  • Reduce potential for long- and short-term health problems for students and staff.
  • Positively impact student attendance, comfort, and performance.
  • Increase teacher and staff performance.
  • Reduce the rate of deterioration and increase efficiency of school facilities and equipment.
  • Reduce potential for school closings or relocation of occupants.
  • Enhance relationships among school administration, parents and staff.
  • Create positive publicity.
  • Enhance community trust.
  • Reduce liability problems.

Good IAQ: How to Get It

Lung-damaging dust can be as small as 0.5 microns, and airborne bacteria can be as small as 0.3 microns. These tiny, submicron particles are the ones that can travel to the deepest part of the lungs, where they can cause a variety of respiratory problems and other health and productivity issues. 

An effective air filtration strategy can defend students and other school occupants against submicron airborne particles, but only if the air filters are chosen with care. That is why it’s important to look beyond a filter’s MERV for its filtration efficiency over all three particle size ranges:

  • E1 – very fine particles in the 0.3 to 1.0 micron range
  • E2 – fine particles in the 1.0 to 3.0 micron range
  • E3 – coarse particles in the 3.0 to 10.0 micron range

When it comes to trapping submicron particles, it’s a good idea to purchase filters that use electret-treated media. That is because, while submicron particles are much smaller than the void spaces present in most commercial electret-treated media, the electrostatic forces within the media structure allow those particles to be removed with high efficiency. 

Be aware that many pleated filters have low E1 and E2 efficiencies, especially at commonly used MERV 8. In fact, under ASHRAE 52.2, filters in the MERV 1-12 range aren’t even required to be measured for E1 efficiencies, and filters in the MERV 1-8 range aren’t required to be measured for E2 efficiencies. It is therefore possible to have a MERV 8 electret-treated filter with better E1 particle capture than a MERV 11 mechanical-only filter. 

Lesson Learned

With the right air filtration strategy and effective implementation, educational institutions may be able to positively impact the wellbeing and attendance record of its students and faculty without incurring additional overall expense. In situations where schools are compensated based on student attendance, this could be a huge win for all.


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