Asthma and Indoor Air: Using Research, Making Changes at Home and School

April 01, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

It amazes me that research documenting the link between indoor environments and asthma is still newsworthy. While I understand the importance of conducting credible research on the effects of indoor air, the linkage between indoor environments and health problems such as asthma has been known for years. I started working in the field 15 years ago, and back then, the question wasn’t “how do we get more research?” but rather “how do we make change?”

Last week’s Baltimore Sun published a great article about efforts to make improvements in the indoor environments in urban homes. From the story:

Researchers are finding a direct link between the air children breathe at home and the asthma attacks that are the source of hundreds of thousands of emergency-room visits in the United States every year. The latest study, published last month by Johns Hopkins researchers, quantified the increase in asthma symptoms for every increase in air pollution particles inside Baltimore homes…

“We tend to think of outside as being the polluted place and indoors being the sanctuary,” said Dr. Gregory B. Diette, a director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment. In many of the Baltimore homes he surveyed, Diette found that inside air was a problem.
The article highlights the particular challenges of children in urban areas and it articulates the need for community engagement, and parent education — all so true and so important.

However, this article didn’t address the issues of indoor air quality issues in schools – where kids spend a majority of their waking hours.

To that end, HSC believes that schools should be proactive and take steps to address indoor air quality. Great tools exist including our Action & Resource Guide for Healthy Schools and our Quick and Easy Guide to Green Cleaning, but also the U.S. E.P.A.’s excellent voluntary Tools for Schools program.

And HSC also believes that the federal government has an important role in helping promote healthier indoor environments in schools.

Specifically, we’re advocating for the federal government to fully fund voluntary EPA programs related to schools and children’s environmental health. The EPA’s voluntary programs have shown great results in promoting simple, effective best practices that provide significant public health benefits in school settings. In recent years, the funding and staffing resources for these highly successful programs have been dramatically reduced, hindering their effectiveness and limiting their reach. Restoring funding for these established, proven programs is an important step in making widespread, meaningful change in school health and safety.

The need to improve IAQ has to be a joint effort of parents, communities and schools with the support of our federal government.

Take a look at our recently published report, Healthy and Ready to Learn: Lessons from Chicago for additional recommendations on how national policy can help shape healthy indoor air in schools.