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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Question

Should air purifiers be in school classrooms because a doctor says a teacher needs it? The classrooms have unit ventilator type HVAC.


Answer

Typically when I see a statement that an air purifier has been recommended by a "doctor", I recommend to my clients that they become very careful as to how they handle these situations. Air purifiers may become necessary for a number of reasons, one of which is because of the liability now that a physician has recommended it.

However, the real cause of the problem needs to be identified as the air purifiers address the symptoms, not the cause. If there are mold problems, these as you know are typically related to water leaks which need to be repaired. Another issue to consider is the ventilation itself (i.e. the amount of fresh air and ventilation rates). If the health symptoms are related to high levels of soils, dusts, VOCs, pesticide exposures, etc., then your school needs to identify the culprit and correct the problem at its source. Often times, cleaning can serve as an excellent low-cost health intervention strategy, but the schools have to do it right.

If this has become a teacher's union issue, know that there is currently a lot of work underway with some of the unions which may actually be helpful to get your problem solved. Of course this depends on which union you are dealing with and what the actual problems are. And of course, I do not have enough information to comment to this point.

If you use air purifiers and you want them to actually do something, make sure you get ones that are sized appropriately for the space/room.

I also recommend electrostatic ones that do NOT use filters, as the filters can require quite a bit of maintenance as compared to electrostatic ones without filters. I would also NOT recommend ozone devices, as ozone is a lung irritant and in my opinion should not be used in schools when children are present.

I would also try to convince your Board that the cost for air purifiers come out of some "emergency" fund, and not out of your general cleaning/custodial budget.

If you are looking for some good general information on this topic (and considering that "doctors" are involved) take a look at the EPA materials. Their general website on indoor air quality issues is www.epa.gov/iaq and for some specific information on air purifiers try: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/residair.html.

Good luck. And keep in mind that when people believe their health is being jeopardized they can become quite emotional. So keep a cool head and be patient with them. And make sure you document everything. These situations can quickly get out of hand, so be prepared.

If you would like more specific advice, please let me know.

Stephen P. Ashkin, President
The Ashkin Group, LLC -- The Green Cleaning Experts
3644 Tamarron Drive Bloomington, IN 47408
Voice: 812/332-7950 Fax: 812/332-7965
Email: SteveAshkin@AshkinGroup.com
Visit us at: www.AshkinGroup.com