Air Purifiers in Schools

In a state with some of the worst air quality in the nation, we need HEPA air purifiers in every classroom, especially those along the Wasatch Front, where traffic emissions are high, and polluting industries are persistent. Children spend around 900 hours a year in school, and the walls are not enough to filter out the pollution surrounding them. In fact, indoor air can be 4x worse than the air outside. Clean air is not only crucial to students’ health (immediate and long term), but hugely beneficial in learning and behavioral outcomes.  

The Research

Overwhelmingly, research shows that there is NO safe level of air pollution. Even low levels have a broad range of health effects, including impacts on brain development and anatomy, brain function, and even behavioral impacts. Our youth deserve the best possible chance at education, and reducing air pollution in schools, a place they spend a significant amount of time, is a simple way to not only reduce health risks of poor air quality but also to improve education outcomes. Even when the air quality is “acceptable” by EPA standards, cleaning the air further results in improvement in student performance, learning capability, and test scores. This is all the more important given the academic setbacks of so many students from the pandemic.

“Heaps of scientific studies have connected chronic exposure to fine particulate matter to poor cognition, including in children. “

The Salt Lake Tribune

A tale of two schools

A 2018 study done by University of Utah professors compared indoor and outdoor air quality at two Salt Lake City schools – East High and West High. The study found that even though air quality was worse outside of West High School, indoor air quality was relatively the same as it was at East High School, likely due to air purifiers. This is important evidence of the need for air purifiers in all schools, and especially ones that are in high pollution areas.

The proof is in the test scores

New York University researchers found that scrubbing already “clean air,” by placing an inexpensive ($700), high performance room air purifier in each classroom, capable of reducing particulate pollution 90%, improved math and english test scores about 0.2 standard deviations, or about 5%. Think of an air purifier as a brain purifier.

They concluded that classroom air filters would provide greater education cost/benefit, in some cases far greater, than other interventions such as a 30% reduction in class size, “high dose tutoring,” increasing family income with an earned income tax credit, or the Head Start program. For a fraction of the cost of one new high school, every classroom in the state could be equipped with an effective air purifier. 

A University of Utah study compared test scores with air quality and linked lower scores with poor air quality days for every primary public school in Salt Lake County. Another study linked poor air quality to student absences, which we know effects learning outcomes.

Bad air, bad behavior

Another study, conducted in China, found “a significant relationship between chronic low-level traffic-related air pollution exposure and neurobehavioral function in exposed children.”

Air pollution exposure is associated with almost the full range of clinical neurologic disorders throughout the age spectrum, including lower intelligence, diminished motor function, attention deficit and behavioral problems, decreased cognition and accelerated dementia in adults, delinquent behavior in adolescents, higher rates of violent crime, higher rates of strokes, ALS, relapses in multiple sclerosis, autism, impaired olfactory sense, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, schizophrenia and suicide.

Air pollution and the pandemic

There have been multiple studies since the beginning of the pandemic that show that air pollution increases a person’s chances of contracting COVID, and increases the severity of symptoms in those who get COVID. Air pollution increases the permeability of cells that line the respiratory tract, allowing easier penetration by the virus. Air purifiers help decrease the transmissibility of COVID in our schools, along with other respiratory viruses. They will decrease school absenteeism for students and teachers, help keep schools open if there is another surge in the pandemic, and help decrease the rate of COVID transmission in the entire community.

UPHE on air purifiers in the classroom:

“Air purifiers in classrooms would help decrease the transmissibility of COVID without the burden of inconvenience, discomfort, or ideological trespass.”

Dr. John Macfarlane

“What if we could make everyone happy with an inexpensive way to raise test scores, educational achievements, intellectual abilities and the career potential of every Utah student, from pre-K to graduate school? I’m glad you asked because, lo and behold, there is, and for pennies on the dollar compared to the usual interventions and expenditures.”

Dr. Brian Moench

Read or download the full report on The Health Consequences of Air Pollution prepared by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment – Updated Dec. 28, 2019CLICK HERE.

Click here to listen to six physicians give a 75-minute presentation on how air pollution affects the brain, recorded Jan, 29, 2015.