2015 Progress Report: Healthy High School PRIDE (Partnership in Research on InDoor Environments)

EPA Grant Number: R835638
Title: Healthy High School PRIDE (Partnership in Research on InDoor Environments)
Investigators: Corsi, Richard L. , Kinney, Kerry A. , Novoselac, Atila , Wu, Sarah , Horner, Sharon
Current Investigators: Corsi, Richard L. , Kinney, Kerry A. , Horner, Sharon , Novoselac, Atila , Wu, Sarah
Institution: The University of Texas at Austin
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: February 1, 2015 through January 31, 2019 (Extended to January 31, 2020)
Project Period Covered by this Report: February 1, 2015 through January 31,2016
Project Amount: $989,047
RFA: Healthy Schools: Environmental Factors, Children’s Health and Performance, and Sustainable Building Practices (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Children's Health , Human Health


Past studies of indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools have been deficient in many ways. Only four of 735 published papers have involved actual measurements in high schools in North America. There has been little progress in determining the actual agents responsible for adverse effects when ventilation is inadequate. Environmental agents responsible for dampness-related health effects have not been determined. Few studies have focused on irritating oxygenated VOCs (OVOCs) and their sources. Schools in hot and humid climates have been under-represented. The focus to date has been on identifying IAQ problems in schools. Proven low-cost solutions are needed.

The overall goal of the proposed study is to address these research gaps by partnering with six high schools in Central Texas, conducting an intensive field campaign to delineate the relationship between environmental factors and student health, and then investigating the efficacy of low-cost solutions. Specific objectives include: (1) identifying systematic problems in school HVAC systems that cause poor ventilation rates, increased pollutant concentrations and adverse health symptoms for school occupants and explore low-cost solutions to these problems; (2) utilizing molecular techniques to investigate relationships between composition and diversity of the microbial community present in school classrooms, environmental conditions, and health symptoms; (3) delineating the role of OVOCs on student and teacher health outcomes; and (4) engaging high school student and teacher stewards in the design, data collection and outreach components of the project.

Progress Summary:

The following tasks have been completed during the past year: (1) intensive field measurements in 30 classrooms located in seven high schools (one more than proposed) in Central Texas, (2) analysis of data related to 1, (3) presentation of results related to 1 and 2 at a major international conference, and (4) multi-dimensional community engagement. Each task is presented in additional detail below.

  1. Field measurements were completed to quantify a suite of indoor air and environmental quality metrics in 30 classrooms. Each classroom was evaluated twice, once in the fall and once in the spring semester. Sampling events for most metrics were completed over 4 days, starting on Monday afternoon and ending on Friday afternoon. Measurements included (classroom unless otherwise noted): temperature and relative humidity, carbon dioxide (room and supply air), fine (PM2.5) and coarse (PM10) particulate matter (room and rooftop), speciated volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone (room and rooftop), bioaerosols (room air and surfaces), noise, and illuminance. Surveys of perceived air and environmental quality for staff and students were also completed, although the response rate was relatively low for students.
  2. A significant amount of data analysis was completed related to measurements made in the field. Our team generated cumulative distribution plots for aggregated data for several key metrics, analyzed temporal variations in metrics for individual classrooms, and continue to assess correlations between metrics.
  3. Results of Year 1 field measurements and data analysis were presented at a major international conference as described below under Publications/Presentations.
  4. A significant effort was made during the first year to engage STEM teachers and students in each of our participating high schools. These included IAQ workshops for each school district. Workshops included interested STEM teachers and high school students. The total number of STEM teachers and administrators who attended these workshops was nine. The total number of high school students who attended was approximately 60. The content of workshops involved general information about IAQ, hands-on demonstrations at five different stations, and a discussion of what we would be doing in each school. Each high school then identified 3 to 5 student stewards. Stewards were notified in advance of our team being at their high school and were allowed to shadow our team as we set up and took down measurement instruments. In the process, we explained to stewards what we were measuring, how we were measuring, and why we were measuring specific metrics. After our fall 2015 measurement campaigns, we returned to each school district to discuss our findings in spring 2016. These information sessions were attended by STEM teachers, student stewards and, for one large district, facilities personnel and administrators. Finally, during the summer of 2016 our team put on two weeklong boot camps for student stewards at the University of Texas at Austin. Over 20 stewards from six high schools attended. Each of the first 4 days the students completed a different hands-on IAQ experiment, and on the fifth day made presentations of their findings to graduate students and professors. Through this process they also got to meet a wide range of faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin. These boot camps were highly successful and schools have asked for more in the future.

Field measurements led to a number of interesting and potentially important findings. While not all inclusive, several outcomes are described below:

  1. Over 75% of classrooms studied had average occupied-day carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations that exceeded generally accepted standards (e.g., 700 ppm above background). Over 90% of classrooms had peak CO2 concentrations greater than generally accepted standards. This is true of either fall or spring CO2 concentrations. During spring sampling, 44% of classrooms had peak CO2 concentrations above 2,500 ppm.  Discussions with school facility managers indicated that greater ventilation is generally not used for purposes of energy savings. One large school district has been very responsive to the need to improve ventilation to reduce CO2 concentrations, rebreathed fraction, and potential spread of airborne cold and flu viruses.
  2. Four-day passive measurements indicate that formaldehyde concentrations ranged from 10 to 45 ppb across all classrooms, with a median concentration of 23 ppb. However, the use of a continuous formaldehyde analyzer in some classrooms suggested that elevated concentrations at night occurred when mechanical systems were either shut down or programmed for lower air exchange rates. This suggests that occupied-day formaldehyde concentrations were much lower than continuous 4-day measurements.
  3. Four-day average formaldehyde concentrations determined using a relatively inexpensive continuous formaldehyde analyzer were reasonably consistent with 4-day time-integrated passive formaldehyde measurements. This bodes well for possible low-cost formaldehyde measurements in the future, with an additional benefit of being able to observe temporal variations in formaldehyde associated with new furniture, changes in indoor environmental conditions, etc.
  4. Elevated concentrations of course particulate matter (PM10) in classrooms appeared to be wholly dependent on student activities, particularly when students entered and left classrooms and re-suspended or shed particles in the process. This is a period when students or teachers with dust or fabric allergies might be most impacted. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations were generally low in classrooms, with the exception of a couple of days when a fire in Central Texas caused a significant increase in outdoor and indoor PM2.5.
  5. The volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations in most classrooms tended to be dominated by scenting agents and cleaning products. A major component of floor cleaner was observed in the air of many classrooms. Body sprays appeared to be a major source of terpenes associated with scenting agents, with limonene being by far the most abundant VOC and the VOC with the highest concentration in general. One school had an aggressive “no scent” policy that appeared to be a success in terms of VOCs associated with airborne scenting agents.
  6. Rooftop ozone concentrations tracked very well with nearest state-run continuous air monitoring stations.  Indoor ozone concentrations trended with outdoor concentrations, but as expected were lower indoors. The indoor/outdoor ozone concentration was inversely related to occupied-day indoor CO2 concentration. Analysis of dynamic ozone concentrations and student arrival and departure from classrooms indicates that students themselves were a major sink for ozone.
  7. Background daytime noise levels, as well as those during classroom occupation, were often greater than recommended values.
  8. Based on survey data, it appears that thermal comfort (too warm or too cold) was the predominant environmental factor that affected student perceptions of their classroom environment, but additional analyses are needed to confirm this result.

Another important outcome has been the development of a very positive relationship with administrators and facilities staff in three school districts, and with STEM teachers in seven high schools. Based on student feedback, it is also apparent that we have excited many students at these high schools about the field of IAQ, which most knew nothing about prior to their participation in the project.

Future Activities:

In the next activity period, we will once again complete intensive sampling in each of 30 classrooms. Some of these will be different than the set of year 1 to further explore trends between portable and conventional classrooms, as well as special activity classrooms (e.g., art and gymnasium) that were not included in year 1. We will continue to analyze data, work on the submission of journal manuscripts, and engage high school stakeholders as described above.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 25 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Children’s respiratory health, community partnership, school practice, mediators, particulates, surveys, test scores, attendance, indoor air, air quality;

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2016 Progress Report
  • 2017 Progress Report
  • 2018 Progress Report
  • Final Report