Environmental and Sustainability Consultants

Air Quality In New York City Public Schools

Air Quality In New York City Public Schools


Air quality is New York City public schools is not routinely monitored.  Indoor carbon dioxide (CO2)  levels are measured to assess adequacy of ventilation, but increased levels are known to be associated with cognitive effects among occupants as well as poor perceived air quality.  Increased CO2 levels have also been associated with decreased academic performance.  Most air quality studies in schools have focused on evaluating the relationship between CO2 levels and student health or academic performance.  Few studies have focused on teachers’ exposure to CO2.

CUNY School of Public Health is conducting a study to investigate the association between increased CO2 levels and teacher health in New York City public schools.  The project intends to also assess whether school personnel can monitor CO2 levels to warn of inferior ventilation in advance of symptom complaints.  The data collected will provide a clearer picture of the air quality in New York City public schools.

The New York City Public school system is the largest in the country, with approximately 1 million students in more than 1,800 schools and a budget of approximately 25 billion dollars.  Approximately 130,000 employees work in the New York City public school system including 75,000 teachers.  It has been reported that about 44% of New York City schools are over capacity.  Approximately 170 NYC schools were constructed more than a century ago.  School facility inspection reports show maintenance problems with heating and ventilation systems in many schools.

Approximately 20 New York City elementary schools will be selected; 5 classrooms in each school will be monitored for 4 or 5 consecutive days.  A small meter will be placed inconspicuously in the classroom to collect continuous data for CO2, temperature and relative humidity.  The meter does not make any noise and will be placed out of sight. During the air quality monitoring, teachers will keep a short activity/occupancy log of the classroom and complete a 5 to 10 minute online questionnaire.  The air quality meter will be dropped off at the school on Monday and picked up on Friday.   The objective is to conduct monitoring in the classroom towards the beginning of the school year and then again towards the end of the school year; each classroom will be sampled twice.

The study population consists of elementary school teachers teaching the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades.   Elementary school teachers are being selected because they tend to stay in one classroom with their students for most of the day.   The schools and classrooms will be randomly selected but on a first come basis to fill the limited amount openings.

The results of the study will provide baseline levels of CO2 and ventilation rates in the selected schools, evaluate the association between CO2 and teacher health, and provide data for possible future interventions to improve the IEQ for teachers, staff and students. Enhanced IEQ in schools could improve health, decrease absenteeism, increase performance and productivity, and reduce operational costs (more effective teaching).

For more information about this study on air quality in New York City public schools, please contact Leon Levine:  leon@ecothinkgroup.com

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