How Utah’s Recess Guidelines Are Tied to Air Quality
Learn why Utah schools follow recess guidelines during inversions, and how commercial air filtration systems protect indoor air quality during this time.
With winter here, residents in Utah are once again advised to brace themselves for higher air pollution levels brought about by temperature inversions. For parents, it’s time to once again pay attention to Utah’s Recess Guidance for Schools, which is “A set of recommendations for when elementary school students should stay indoors for recess based on current air quality.” Basically, it helps parents know when it’s safe for their children to go outside during recess and breaks, or stay indoors under the protection of commercial air filtration systems.
Created by the Utah Departments of Health (UDOH) and Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Utah Recess Guidance for Schools is designed to help school administrators, principals and parents know when to move recess indoors through alerts warning against poor air quality.
The Guidance is aligned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality Index (AQI) Recommendations, and links recommended outdoor activities with concentrations of PM2.5, or particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, which is the primary air pollutant of concern during inversion season in the winter. These particles are less than one-quarter the diameter of a human hair, not visible to the naked eye, and during high-pollution events, there may be tens of thousands of these particles in a cubic foot of air.
In addition, the Guidance takes into considerations students who may have respiratory symptoms or pre-existing respiratory conditions, thus making them more susceptible to the health effects of poor air quality.
“Breathing air pollution affects everyone and their health,” explains Camfil USA’s Charlie Seyffer, Manager of Marketing & Technical Materials for commercial air filters and 37-year ASHRAE member and active committee participant. “But different individuals can have different reactions to dirty air. At-risk segments of the population are particularly vulnerable, including children, the elderly, expecting mothers, and individuals with existing lung and heart conditions.”
Poor Indoor Air Quality: A Chronic Problem in U.S. Schools
Utah is by no means the only state whose ambient outdoor and indoor air quality presents problems for school children. For years, scientists and education officials have raised concerns over the number of school children in the United States who are exposed to high levels of air pollutants in schools. The risk of exposure to polluted air is particularly pronounced in low-income neighborhoods, where schools tend to be built on the cheapest land available—often in industrial zones and near major roads.
And it’s not just outdoor sources of air pollution that are of concern to schools.
According to a 2014 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the average main school building in the United States was over 55-years old, with roughly half of these building reporting problems caused by poor indoor air quality. This meant that students in these buildings were at greater risk of being exposed to indoor sources of airborne pollutants, including biological contaminants like viruses and bacteria, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter generated from normal building activity.
Older school buildings may also have a higher chance of releasing radon, a toxic gas naturally released by soil linked to lung cancer. Older school buildings may also have asbestos—a popular construction material in the 50s and 60s with fire-resistant properties that has since been banned due to being a known carcinogen.
Inversions Highlight the Importance of High Efficiency Air Filtration Systems
During the winter, concentrations of PM2.5—the primary pollutant of concern during this time of year in states like Utah, California, and Colorado—rise because of temperature inversions. These happen when a layer of warm air traps cool air near the ground and prevents it from rising into the upper atmosphere. This, however, also has the effect of trapping most of the airborne pollutants in that cool air, which is why high efficiency air filtration systems are so important in homes and buildings during the winter months.
In Utah, the majority of the state’s population is packed in a relatively small area along the Wasatch Front. Making the air pollution from human activity, whether it’s power generation, traffic, and industrial processes, concentrated in a local area.
When an inversion happens in this valley region, the pollutants end up being trapped, causing Utah’s chronic air quality issues. This pollution continues to build until a storm passes through the area and clears the air. Until then, however, Utahns are exposed to high levels of PM2.5, which is made up of dust, soot and vehicle emissions.
“The danger of PM2.5 comes from the fact that these pollutants are small and light enough to be easily carried by the air and inhaled,” notes Seyffer. “Imagine dust particles ending up deep in the lungs, causing asthma or aggravating existing respiratory or heart conditions.”
Why Children Have a Greater Need for Commercial High Efficiency Filters and Air Purifiers
For children, who show a higher sensitivity to air pollution, PM2.5 can be especially dangerous. Naturally, the likelihood of suffering from the health effects of PM2.5 increases as more time is spent outdoors when levels of PM2.5 pollution are high. For children, the best course of action is to spend as much time as possible inside school buildings equipped with commercial high efficiency filters and air purifiers.
The health dangers posed by particulate matter are also higher for children as they have a more rapid breathing rate, which increases even further with physical activity—think of children running around outdoors during recess. Children also eat more food and drink more liquid relative to their body weight compared to adults, making them more likely to inhale airborne pollutants.
It’s no surprise then asthma rates among children in Utah have been increasing; every classroom in the state has at least two children with asthma, while one in every 11 adults in the country suffer from it. Utah also has one of higher rates of asthma compared to most of the country.
When to Stay Indoors Under the Protection of Industrial High Efficiency Air Filters
As per the Utah Recess Guidance, teachers, principals, and school administrators are advised to keep students indoors under the protection of industrial high efficiency air filters on days when levels of particulate matter are:
- Below 35.4 μg/m3 (Green and Yellow levels) – All students may spend their recess outdoors.
- Between 35.5 μg/m3 and 55.4 μg/m3 (Orange level) – Students showing respiratory symptoms or have a history of respiratory problems are advised to stay indoors for recess. This includes children with asthma, chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, and issues with their immune system.
- Beyond 55.5 (red or purple levels) – All students are advised to stay indoors for recess.
Real School-Related Benefits from Industrial High Efficiency Air Filters
From a real-world perspective, industrial high efficiency air filters offer these school-related benefits:
- Low student absenteeism – Protection from dirty air means that children are less likely to get sick from asthma, chronic lung problems, and heart ailments. By being present in school, students are not pressured to make up for lost school days.
- Low teacher and support staff absenteeism – Likewise, keeping air inside school buildings safe and clean to breathe means that children are less likely to get sick and miss teaching days. In turn, this ensures the school does not have to turn to substitute teachers for emergencies, which can strain their resources.
Choosing Commercial High Efficiency Filters for Schools
For more than 50 years, Camfil USA has manufactured commercial high efficiency filters designed specifically for the air quality needs of schools. We recommend MERV 13 (ISO eMP2.5) particulate matter filters for common student areas, special HEPA filters and microfiltration systems for school labs, and high efficiency filters with activated carbon filters for areas that may have high odor or elevated levels of gaseous contaminants. If you would like to learn more about our commercial air filtration systems for schools, get in touch with Camfil USA today.
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