Poor Ventilation Systems in Several Virginia Schools Pose Health Threats to Students

Schools have been bolstering their safety measures for students now more so than ever before, but there’s still one safety concern that many teachers, administrators, and parents tend to forget about: the quality of the air circulating through school buildings.

Sure, when the weather starts getting colder every year, adults feel particularly compelled to remind kids a few times a day that colds are spread when someone doesn’t cover their sneeze or doesn’t wash their hands regularly. But local news source 13News Now has been putting a few Virginia schools on the spot, and has taken an in-depth look at the air that’s circulating through these schools.

As 13News Now reporter Karen Hopkins notes, the findings aren’t looking too good.

The news team’s investigation took a look at four buildings, during three different operating times, for four Virginia schools (Carver, Hidenwood, Lee Hall, and Sedgefield Elementary), and they also looked at the district telecommunications center building during the same three operating times.

According to the findings, several school buildings were operating with HVAC systems that are not up to industry standards, and which fail to provide adequate ventilation to filter out harmful bacteria in the air before it gets pushed into the buildings.

In Hopkins’s article, building experts explained that the older schools in the district aren’t required to keep ventilation records, since HVAC filtering requirements were lessened in 1981 in order to cut energy costs. Not surprisingly, many students and teachers in those buildings started getting sick during the 1980s due to dirty air flow. Although the HVAC system changes were rescinded and corrected, older buildings, Hopkins explains, weren’t required to change ventilation systems.

School officials can certainly argue that it would be too expensive to replace so many HVAC systems at once (Hopkins states that it could cost anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million per building, depending on its size) — but that doesn’t change the fact that most HVAC systems last about 12 to 15 years with proper maintenance. Pushing an HVAC system beyond its normal life range will certainly result in poor air quality. Poor air quality, in turn, allows viruses to travel more easily, and is more likely to trigger allergic reactions and respiratory problems.

And that’s exactly what the research team predicts will happen in these schools — mostly affecting the students, who hardly have bulletproof immune systems — unless the schools improve their air quality and ventilation. It may be a bit expensive, but if current complaints from parents are any indication, it’s unlikely that these schools will be able to get away with poor HVAC systems for much longer.


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