Free to Breathe, Free to Teach: Indoor Air Quality in Schools and Respiratory Health of Teachers

EPA Grant Number: FP917329
Title: Free to Breathe, Free to Teach: Indoor Air Quality in Schools and Respiratory Health of Teachers
Investigators: Gaetz, Kim A
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Human Health: Public Health Sciences


Excessive dampness in schools may affect respiratory health by increasing exposure to sources of allergens such as mold, dust mites, roaches and rodents. The “Free to Breathe, Free to Teach” research project will investigate how classroom average relative humidity affects the incidence of asthma exacerbations and allergies among public school teachers in North Carolina. To provide relevant prevention strategies to minimize dampness, it also will be important to examine associations between humidity control and indoor air quality factors such as building age, previous water damage, type of ventilation system and maintenance practices.


Indoor air quality factors were evaluated during school inspections in which school and classroom specific characteristics were recorded, including water damage, adequacy of ventilation and maintenance issues. Fixed and time-varying characteristics will be modeled as predictors of humidity control. To measure incidence of asthma exacerbations and allergies, weekly surveys on respiratory health outcomes and classroom conditions were administered to school teachers for up to 12 weeks of follow-up. To quantify dampness in each classroom over time, relative humidity (RH) and temperature were regularly monitored during this time period, using data logging hygrometers. The analysis will compare incidence of respiratory symptoms in teachers working in classrooms with high (> 50%) and low.

Expected Results:

Previous studies have demonstrated associations between excessive dampness in the indoor environment and respiratory illness. This study will estimate the levels of classroom relative humidity associated with increases in asthma exacerbations and allergy symptoms in school teachers. These findings also will be important in suggesting which school and classroom characteristics assist in humidity control. The strengths of this approach include primary collection of longitudinal health and environmental data, designed to address the proposed research questions. Results from this study may reduce use of ineffective methods of humidity control and may increase preventive maintenance strategies linked to positive health outcomes.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

The results may support practical methods to reduce asthma triggers in schools through preventative maintenance and humidity control. By examining the impact of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) on the general health, concentration and attendance of school teachers, the research may increase attention among school officials to providing good IAQ as an essential ingredient to creating a healthy learning and working environment.

Supplemental Keywords:

indoor air quality (IAQ), asthma, environmental epidemiology, humidity, respiratory health, school environment, teachers

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final