From 13 WTHR:

13 Investigates has discovered an invisible problem in classrooms all across Indiana.

You can’t see it or smell it. You can’t taste it or touch it.

But it’s there — sometimes far more than it should be – and it can impact students’ health and education.

The problem is elevated levels of CO2, also known as carbon dioxide.

“Carbon dioxide is actually a natural chemical that is formed when we breathe,” explained Veda Ackerman, a pediatric pulmonologist at Riley Hospital for Children. “If you go back to basic biology class, we all breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2 … At low levels, it doesn’t cause problems at all.”

But in schools with poor air circulation, CO2 levels can rise rapidly when students pack into a classroom.

13 Investigates found schools across the state have been cited for CO2 levels considered too high by the Indiana State Department of Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s when students can begin to feel the impact.

How students suffer

“Higher levels of carbon dioxide make a person sleepy and it also decreases their learning ability,” said David Gettinger, a facilities manager who monitors CO2 levels for Perry Township Schools. “More carbon dioxide means there’s not enough oxygen in the classroom and you don’t think as straight.”

Ron Clark, who conducts school indoor air quality inspections for the state health department, says elevated CO2 levels are one of the most common problems he finds in schools.

“It means they aren’t bringing in enough fresh air for students,” Clark said. “It would impact their education and their learning level.”

Several studies, including a soon-to-be-released report from the University of Tulsa, link elevated carbon dioxide levels and poor air circulation with decreased student performance.

Prolonged exposure to CO2 is also linked to decreased student health.

In schools with high carbon dioxide levels, poor airflow often means pollutants in classrooms are not being flushed out by fresh air. That can trigger serious medical issues in children with asthma and other health problems. Asthma is the leading cause of student absenteeism in the nation, resulting in millions of missed school days each year. Nearly a quarter million Indiana children have been diagnosed with asthma, according to the state health department.

More (including video).

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