The waning days of summer traditionally signal the beginning of the back-to-school season. However, after the last 18 months, the return to in-person learning is toggling between welcome and uncertain. Upon their return, administrators, teachers, staff and students will be greeted with new guidelines or protocols, technologies and practices due to the ongoing pandemic and variants surging across the country. Among the many areas to come under scrutiny in recent months, indoor air quality has proven both essential and challenging to address.

On any given weekday during the typical 180-day school year, one sixth of the U.S. population spends time in a public school. This includes nearly 51 million children and more than three million public school teachers. After the last bell or dismissal, schools often play host to large cross-sections of the community — from kids to parents to members of the public there for events of all sizes

Given the central, dynamic and diverse role of our schools in daily life — and particularly in the lives of our children — indoor air quality is of the utmost importance. However, the sheer volume of factors at play — including the age and structure of school buildings — can make measuring, controlling and ultimately improving indoor air quality difficult. Simply put, indoor air quality in high traffic buildings like schools is complicated.

Wear, Tear and Disrepair

The state of disrepair of many school buildings — including HVAC systems that play a pivotal role in addressing air quality – makes matters more complex. Consider the following: There are more than 98,000 public school buildings in the United States. On average, those buildings were built in 1968 — more than 50 years ago — and half of all public schools need at least one major facility or system repair. When it comes to air circulation and conditioning, three-in-ten schools have a system that is in poor to fair condition and more than four-in-ten (41%) school districts report that half of their schools need HVAC upgrades.

Further, even if every school building were fully modernized and outfitted with the latest HVAC systems, indoor air quality would still be an area of concern given the reality of living, working and learning in real-world environments. For example, factors like humidity and temperature have dramatic impacts on indoor air quality. There is also the question of outdoor air quality as this can be essential to the ventilation part of the clean air equation. A school located in an industrialized area is likely to have greater air quality issues than a rural school in the middle of farmland.

As if all of that were not enough, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 46% of schools in the United States have environmental conditions that lead to poor indoor air quality.

There are approximately 75,000 chemical substances in commercial use today — and a great many of them can be found in school buildings. Schools host everything from custodial cleaning products to lab chemicals to art supplies and more. And this doesn’t account for commonly found products — computers, television monitors, printers, wallpaper, furniture, carpeting and wood flooring — that contain or emit small amounts of ozone or other byproducts during regular use.

Clean Indoor Air Requires a Comprehensive Multi-Layered Approach (and Clear Standards)

There is no such thing as perfect indoor air in real world environments because the real world isn’t sterile — and that’s especially true in highly trafficked buildings like schools. But that does not mean we can’t improve the indoor air quality in these environments. Complex problems require comprehensive solutions.

This is where affordable, effective technologies like GPS’ Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NPBITM) come into play. As part of a multi-layered strategy, NPBI works with HVAC systems, using low-power, zero ozone-certified ionization to make small particles in the air (e.g., dust, dander, smoke, and other particles) larger, making them easier to filter, trap and remove. In addition to this clustering effect, contact with ions also reduces certain viruses and bacteria.* NPBI technology is not a silver bullet, but it can be a smart and cost-effective way to help improve indoor air quality.

Still, selecting and implementing the most effective, efficient, and affordable solutions can be confusing for consumers, including school leaders. That’s because common, scientifically valid standards for testing that enable apples-to-apples comparisons are not available for technologies like NPBI. These standards are needed to assist the general public with a better understanding of newer technologies, to help ensure responsible innovation across the indoor air quality industry and to provide consumers with rigorously benchmarked information they require and deserve.

This is why GPS is taking the lead and calling on our industry and associations to develop comprehensive, common standards that would help the public understand and navigate the choices available to them. Because improving indoor air quality in a world facing a global airborne pandemic is challenging — and absolutely necessary.

*Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) technology has demonstrated a reduction of certain viruses and bacteria like SARS-CoV-2, E-Coli, and RSV in laboratory settings. Please see www.globalplasmasolutions.com/third-party-testing for more information. GPS uses multiple data points to formulate performance validation statements. GPS technology is used in a wide range of applications across diverse environmental conditions. Since locations will vary, clients should evaluate their individual application and environmental conditions when making an assessment regarding the technology’s potential benefits. The GPS products have not been evaluated by the FDA as medical devices and, therefore, are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent infections or diseases caused by certain viruses or bacteria. The use of this technology is not intended to take the place of reasonable precautions to prevent the transmission of disease. It is important to comply with all applicable public health laws and guidelines issued by federal, state, and local governments and health authorities as well as official guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including but not limited to social distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and the use of face masks.