Indoor air quality in public schools: an assessment of exposures and symptoms of teachers

Research Trainee: Christopher Godwin, DDS, MPH, PhD Student, Dept. of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan

Faculty Researcher: Stuart Batterman, PhD, Professor of Envrionmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan

The nation’s largest public workforce is the over 3 million teachers and staff working in elementary, middle and high schools. Despite growing health concerns among teachers, evidence that building systems critical to the indoor environment have significant defects in approximately half of schools, and the presence of many factors that may exacerbate indoor air quality (IAQ) problems in schools, there is a paucity of research that provides a systematic assessment of air quality and worker health and comfort in schools. The aim of the proposed pilot project is to provide research training to a post-doctoral scientist in the context of a crosscutting and multidisciplinary study that addresses the school environment. The study will address several hypotheses: (1) relative significance of pollutant exposures in schools vis-à-vis total exposures; (2) variability of concentrations within schools versus across schools; (3) linkage of pollutant concentrations, source activities, building condition, and ventilation system design and functioning; and (4) relationship of school staff health and comfort with the indoor environment.

To conduct this research, a variety of standards and innovative assessment techniques will be utilized, including area and personal monitoring of IAQ pollutants and comfort variables, and self-administered questionnaires that collect personal information, medical history, psychosocial factors, and a core set of symptoms and environmental factors in the workplace. 15 schools and 5 rooms/teachers in each school will be studied for a 1-week period. The analysis will be repeated in 10 schools in a different season giving a total sample size of 125. By partnering with the local school district, we will be able to monitor a wide range of parameters, including volatile organic compounds, PM2.5 (particulate matter ≤2.5 µm), bioaerosols, dust, antigens, fibers, etc. Statistic analyses (correlations, factor analysis, ANOVAs, regression, etc.) will be used to address specific research questions. Results will be utilized to develop manuscripts for submission to key journals, and will be communicated to representatives of the local school advisory committee. This research is innovative in using a comprehensive questionnaire and activity log; employing simultaneous monitoring in multiple rooms to assess spatial and temporal variability as well as emission sources; apportioning exposures to work and non-work related periods, and in developing a high quality database suitable for epidemiological investigations of SBS-type symptoms. Further, the research will provide advanced training to a Ph.D./post-doctoral trainee that will represent significant extensions to his earlier research and skill level.

Grants resulting from this project:
American Chemistry Council. Understanding Exposure to Volatile Organic Air Toxins. 6/1/03 – 5/30/06.


Research trainee’s current position:
Christopher Godwin received his PhD in 2003 and is currently a Research Specialist in the Dept. of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan.