Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)? 

2. What affects IAQ in MCPS facilities? 

3. Why is IAQ important for MCPS? 

4. What is MCPS doing to improve IAQ in its buildings? 

5. Is there anything I can do to improve IAQ in my building? 

6. How can I find out more about IAQ-related issues? 

1. What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?  

Indoor Air quality (IAQ), sometimes called indoor air quality (IAQ), is a term used to characterize health and comfort-related conditions inside a building designed for human occupancy. Relevant factors include air temperature, relative humidity levels, airborne and surface contaminant concentrations, lighting, and noise. A building's IAQ is typically considered acceptable if occupants are not exposed to harmful contaminant concentrations and a large majority of the occupants are satisfied with Indoor Air conditions.

Occupants' perceptions of IAQ for a building, or a space within a building, can vary because of individual variations in temperature/humidity level preferences and sensitivities to chemical and biological contaminants. Perceptions can also be affected by issues that are not associated with Indoor Air conditions, such as unrelated health problems and psychosocial factors (work-related or personal stress).

2. What affects IAQ in MCPS facilities?  

A building's IAQ is a product of several factors, including ventilation system operation, contaminant sources, and occupant activities.

Ventilation systems  

Most classrooms and offices in MCPS facilities are served by mechanical heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. HVAC systems for classrooms and offices are designed to control indoor temperatures by supplying heated or cooled air. These systems are also designed to dilute and remove airborne contaminants by providing a continuous supply of filtered outdoor air.

Contaminant sources  

IAQ can be affected by the presence of contaminants, substances that can adversely affect occupant health and/or comfort. Common indoor contaminants include dust, fungal particles, pollen, bacteria and viruses, radon, emissions from furnishings and building materials, office equipment emissions, vehicle exhaust, emissions from cleaning and maintenance products, sewer gas, mites, animal-derived substances (insect and rodent feces and carcasses), and emissions from educational chemical products (paints, adhesives, photographic chemicals, ceramic materials).

Indoor contaminants can be generated by indoor and outdoor sources. Common indoor sources include cleaning products, maintenance and repair products, building materials, furnishings, dirty ventilation equipment, faulty plumbing equipment, office equipment, art and science products, pesticides, animals, biological contamination, and air fresheners. Occupants themselves can also act as indoor contaminant sources by introducing communicable diseases, irritants (such as personal fragrances), and allergens (animal dander, pollen, mold spores). Common outdoor sources include idling automobiles, plant life, decomposing organic matter, garbage dumpsters, soil and rocks, water, and building exhausts that are located near outdoor air intakes for HVAC equipment.

Occupant activities  

Occupant activities can impact IAQ by affecting contaminant generation and HVAC system performance. Indoor air contaminants can be generated by various types of occupant activities, such as maintenance and repair work, construction operations, painting, housekeeping, art and science activities, and office work (copying, printing). HVAC system performance at MCPS facilities is determined largely by the manner in which ventilation equipment is maintained and operated by building occupants. Occupants can ensure adequate performance through routine preventive maintenance (cleaning and inspecting mechanical components, replacing dirty air filters) and proper operation (leaving ventilation units on, ensuring that grilles/diffusers are not obstructed, leaving windows and doors closed, maintaining appropriate thermostat settings, and ensuring that thermostats are adequately exposed to room air).

3. Why is IAQ important for MCPS?  

IAQ has received increasing attention in the last 10–15 years as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies of air pollution have determined that indoor contaminant concentrations can be 2-5, and sometimes more than 100 times, higher than outdoor concentrations. Because children are believed to be more susceptible to air contaminants, IAQ is especially important for school buildings. The consequences of poor IAQ in schools, according to EPA, include:

  • Increased potential for long-term and short-term health problems for students and staff.
  • Less favorable student learning environment.
  • Reduced performance of students and staff resulting from discomfort, sickness, or absenteeism.
  • Accelerated deterioration and reduced efficiency of the school physical plant and equipment.
  • Increased potential that schools will have to be closed, or occupants temporarily relocated.
  • Strained relationships among school administration and parents and staff.
  • Negative publicity that can damage a school's or administration's image and effectiveness.
  • Potential liability problems.
 

4. What is MCPS doing to improve IAQ in its buildings?  

In 1997, MCPS convened the Indoor Air Quality Process Action Team (a group of school officials, county officials, parents, and employee labor union officials) to develop recommendations for improving Indoor Air conditions in MCPS facilities. The team generated a report (MCPS IAQ PAT Final Report) with over 50 specific recommendations for preventing and correcting IAQ-related problems. The report also provided an overall goal:

To achieve, maintain, and where necessary, to restore an indoor air quality environment in which everyone in a Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) facility can perform the necessary tasks of learning, teaching, administering, and sustaining facilities in a safe and healthy manner.  

Based on the recommendations, MCPS implemented an IAQ Program consisting of two components: a proactive element, intended to prevent problems by ensuring adequate preventive maintenance of buildings and building plant equipment, and a reactive element, created to efficiently and effectively correct problems that arise in MCPS facilities.

Proactive Element  

The proactive element of the program involves site visits by the IAQ Preventive Maintenance (PM) Team, which consists of environmental safety specialists, ventilation mechanics, technicians, and an electrician. The site visits are designed to identify and correct deficiencies (i.e., mechanical ventilation-related problems, poor maintenance and cleaning practices, occupant activities that negatively affect Indoor Air conditions) that can cause IAQ problems. Corrective work (which often requires collaboration by building staff, the IAQ Team, and the local Division of Maintenance depot) typically involves training for building personnel, ventilation equipment repairs and cleaning, and modification of occupant activities. Upon completing each visit, the IAQ Team presents building staff with a written Building Maintenance Plan (BMP) that provides specific information and procedures necessary for maintaining acceptable Indoor Air conditions.

Reactive Element  

The reactive element exists to ensure prompt evaluation and correction of IAQ-related problems that arise in MCPS facilities. Typically, an environmental safety coordinator initiates an evaluation upon receiving an Indoor Air Quality Complaint form (MCPS Form 230-23) and a corresponding Building Services Indoor Air Quality Checklist (MCPS Form 230-24) reporting a problem. Using observations, staff interviews, and IAQ readings, the coordinator attempts to identify the cause(s) of the problem and appropriate corrective action.

5. Is there anything I can do to improve IAQ in my building?  

Occupants play a major role in ensuring acceptable IAQ in their buildings. Listed below are several action items MCPS personnel can complete to improve conditions in their buildings. MCPS personnel can also evaluate their buildings using detailed checklists provided by EPA. Teachers can find additional information at the Tips for Teachers page.

Educational, Administrative, and Support Staff  

Ventilation  

  • Allow ventilation units to operate continuously, as designed.
  • Keep all ventilation grilles and diffusers clear of air flow obstructions (books, papers, posters, furniture, plants, boxes, etc.).
  • Keep thermostats clear of obstructions (such as papers, posters, and shelves) and heat-generating items (computers, televisions, coffee machines, aquariums, lamps).
  • Do not attempt to adjust wall-mounted pneumatic thermostats, which are easily damaged; report uncomfortable room temperatures to administrative or building service staff.
  • Do not bring portable space heaters to the building.
  • Maintain at least three feet of clearance in front of wall-mounted ventilation units to allow access for routine preventive maintenance by building service staff.
  • Promptly report ventilation-related problems (unusual noises or odors, temperature control problems, air flow problems) to administrative or building service staff.
 

Potential Contaminants  

  • Do not bring chemical products (cleaning products, maintenance products, office products, room deodorizers, art and science supplies, etc.) to the building unless they have been approved for use in MCPS facilities .
  • Do not bring pesticides to the building: Maryland law prohibits pesticide application on school grounds by personnel other than certified applicators.
  • Promptly report water leaks, unexpected moisture on room surfaces, mold growth, and pest activity to administrative or building service staff.
  • Report damaged paint (on walls, window frames, doors, etc.) to building service staff.
  • Comply with MCPS Regulation ECJ-RB if animals must be brought to the building for educational purposes.
  • Do not place potted plants in the building.
 

Cleanliness  

  • Store loose items in containers that can be easily cleaned.
  • Remove items that readily collect and retain dust, such as upholstered furniture and pillows, stuffed animals, throw rugs, and wall decorations.
  • Ensure that spills (especially on carpets) are cleaned promptly.
 

Building Service Staff  

Ventilation  

  • Ensure all ventilation equipment (supply ventilation units, exhaust fans, chillers, boilers, pumps, thermostats, energy management controls) operate as designed.
  • Conduct preventive maintenance activities for ventilation equipment, as directed by Division of School Plant Operations and the IAQ Team (detailed procedures available here ).
  • Maintain records of preventive maintenance activities and ventilation-related work orders.
  • Promptly submit work orders to Division of Maintenance when ventilation equipment repairs are needed.
  • Set thermostats in accordance with MCPS' Resource Conservation Plan : 70°F (heating); 76°F (cooling); 75° (cooling – media centers, computer labs).
 

Potential Contaminants  

  • Promptly report water leaks requiring repair work to Division of Maintenance.
  • Clean minor mold growth (light growth covering less than 10 square feet) as directed by Division of School Plant Operations.
  • Promptly report significant mold growth (growth covering 10 or more square feet, caused by polluted water, involving hazardous materials or equipment, or resulting from building-wide or persistent moisture problems) to Environmental Services/Indoor Air Quality.
  • Use and store cleaning and maintenance products as directed by Division of School Plant Operations.
  • Take care to keep outdoor air intakes clear of debris; do not direct mower clippings toward intakes.
  • Ensure that bird/rodent screens for outdoor air intakes are intact.
 

Cleanliness  

  • Clean room surfaces and maintain grounds as directed by Division of School Plant Operations (in the School Plant Operations Manual).
 

Building Administrators  

Ventilation  

  • Work with building service personnel and the building service area supervisor to ensure appropriate scheduling of routine preventive maintenance for ventilation equipment.
  • Ensure Building Maintenance Plan compliance (for Preventive Maintenance Program Schools).
 

Potential Contaminants  

  • Discourage vehicle idling near the building (especially near outdoor air intakes for ventilation units).
  • Ensure staff familiarity with the MCPS Approved Products List .
  • Ensure compliance with MCPS Regulation JPD-RA, Health Care for Allergic Children.
  • Prohibit carpet shampooing during the summer because elevated humidity levels prevent rapid drying.
 

Cleanliness  

  • Ensure adequate cleaning of the building and maintenance of the grounds.
 

6. How can I find out more about IAQ-related issues?  

Additional IAQ-related information can be found at the web sites listed on our Links page. More information about MCPS' IAQ programs can be obtained by contacting Environmental Safety Coordinator Sean Yarup at 301-926-4409.