IAQ Tools for Schools
IAQ Reference Guide
Section 4 - Resolving IAQ Problems
This Guide provides information on most IAQ problems found in schools, and does not require that pollutant measurements be performed and analyzed. It is important to take reported IAQ problems seriously and respond quickly:
- IAQ problems can be a serious health threat and can cause acute discomfort (irritation) or asthma attacks.
- Addressing an IAQ problem promptly is good policy. Parents are sensitive to unnecessary delays in resolving problems that affect their children. Staff have enough burdens without experiencing frustration over unresolved problems, and unaddressed problems invariably lead to greater complaints.
- Diagnosing a problem is often easier immediately after the complaint(s) has been received. The source of the problem may be intermittent and the symptoms may come and go. Also, the complainant’s memory of events is best immediately after the problem occurs.
In some cases, people may believe that they are being adversely affected by the indoor air, but the basis for their perception may be some other form of stressor not directly related to IAQ. Section 6: "Solving IAQ problems," discusses some of these stressors such as glare, noise, and stress.
Is This an Emergency?
The first decision that must be made in dealing with an IAQ problem is whether the problem requires an emergency response, as shown in the diagram below. Some IAQ incidents require immediate response — for example, high carbon monoxide levels or certain toxic chemical spills will require evacuation of all affected areas in the school, and biological contaminants such as Legionella may require a similar response. In recent years, large outbreaks of influenza have caused entire schools and districts to cease operation temporarily. Some schools and districts may already have established policies on what constitutes a life and safety emergency. Local and state health departments can also be helpful in defining life- and safety-threatening emergencies.
If this is an emergency situation, in addition to immediate action to protect life and health, it is vital that the school administration, parents of students, and appropriate authorities be notified of the situation in a carefully coordinated manner. You must also be prepared to deal quickly and properly with questions from local media. Review the guidance in Section 3: "Effective Communication," and in EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools Communications Guide (EPA 402-K-02-008) to assist in managing the issues of notification and communication.
Who Will Solve the Problem?
For most IAQ issues, schools can pull together a team of in-house staff to solve and prevent problems.For most IAQ issues, schools can pull together a team of in-house staff with an appropriate range of skills to resolve and prevent problems. The IAQ Backgrounder and checklists provide information on typical IAQ problems found in schools. On the other hand, unique or complex IAQ problems may best be handled by professionals who have specialized knowledge, experience, and equipment. Knowledge of your staff’s capabilities will help you decide whether to use in-house personnel or hire outside professionals to respond to a specific IAQ problem.
Regardless of whether it is in-house staff or outside assistance that diagnoses and resolves the problem, the IAQ Coordinator remains responsible for managing the problem-solving process and for communicating with all appropriate parties during the process. If an IAQ Coordinator has not been appointed already, please refer to Section 2: "Role and Functions of the IAQ Coordinator," in the IAQ Coordinator's Guide.