Air quality in schools

Air filters protect kids' health and academic performance

Today the House Environmental Regulations Committee held a hearing on HB 351 by Representative James Talarico to require air filtration standards at schools and child care facilities. This is of particular concern to me, as my daughters attend a daycare on the access road of I35 and thus are exposed to significant diesel exhaust from passing trucks. Environment Texas intern and UT junior Hannah Hayes wrote this piece about the importance of air filtration for children’s health:

Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution. With young developing lungs, long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to respiratory problems down the road. Poor indoor air quality in schools can lead to students having lower attendance and affect their academic performance greatly. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly half of school campuses have unhealthy levels of mold, dust, and other pollutants. There is a new cost-effective solution that not only protects children’s health but also improves their academic performance. Air filtration in schools has been proven to both protect from air pollution and COVID-19 particles. 

Air filtration systems can cut down on the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It is important to protect our children since they are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. COVID-19 particles can live in the air for up to three hours. Ventilation and filtration can cut down on the number of airborne particles that linger in the air when the virus is introduced. There are three key elements for good air quality in schools. The first being how much outside air gets into the building. The director of the Ergonomics Center at Texas A&M University, Mark Broden, says the more air that gets into the building the better. The second key factor is how much air inside the building recirculates from one place to another. If the air is recirculated rapidly, it will therefore be filtered more rapidly, so no one will be breathing the same air. The third key is how often the indoor air gets filtered before being recirculated. The faster the air gets pushed through a strong filter the lease likely it is that someone will breathe in a viral particle from another infected person. While installing better filtration systems and increasing airflow are viable options for schools to protect our children’s wellbeing. Portable HEPA Air Cleaners can also provide support against disease transmission. They are considered easy and inexpensive to install and the air filters will provide lasting beneficial air quality improvements even after the pandemic. 

The benefits of air filters do not end at just protection from COVID-19, they also cut down on the effects of air pollution. The impact of installing air filters in the classrooms of younger children is strikingly large. These air filters protect our students from harmful chemicals in the air, that can affect their academic performance. NYU’s Michael Gilraine’s study has shown us that the installation of air filters improved test scores at the same rate as cutting class sizes by a third. There’s also no need for large renovations since a commercial air filter can be installed for as little as $700 and plugged into any outlet within the classroom. It also costs well above $700 to implement enough new teachers in order to cut class sizes by a significant amount to see any changes in test scores. Installing air filters within classrooms benefits children’s health and education at a very low cost to the school district. These findings suggest that improving air quality could also bolster improvement efforts for disadvantaged students, who often are disproportionately affected by pollution and lowered air quality. 

Based on these findings it is easy to see the path we must follow in order to protect those most vulnerable. At a cost-effective rate, each of our children can be protected and attain higher academic achievement. A few viable solutions to this problem include increasing ventilation, replacing HVAC filters regularly, controlling humidity, and using air purifiers. Every school across Texas should implement these strategies for a stronger, healthier future.


Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation, renewable energy and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.