2018 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, 2018 through January 31,2019
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


Objectives of the Research:

Past studies of indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools have been deficient in many ways. 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. And 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) identify 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) utilize molecular techniques to investigate relationships between composition and diversity of the microbial community present in school classrooms, environmental conditions, and health symptoms, (3) delineate the role of OVOCs on student and teacher health outcomes, and (4) engage high school student and teacher stewards in the design, data collection and outreach components of the project.

Progress Summary:

Progress Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The following tasks have been completed during the period covered by this report: (1) completed most of the sample and data analysis related to collected microbiological samples (2) conducted analysis and developed framework for control on airborne infectious disease transmission in schools, (3) developed low-cost solutions for improvement of environmental conditions in probable classrooms, (4) established website and videos for promotion of air quality in schools, (5) disseminated project findings at conference and meetings and submitted and prepared manuscripts for journal publications.

a) Outputs during Activity Period :

  • The bio team processed most of the data related to microbes in classrooms collected during the field work and it is working on preparation of two manuscripts based on these results.
  • The collected data on semi volatile organic compounds (SVOC) in classrooms' air were processed and investigated, resulting in comprehensive analysis of sources of SVOCs in schools.
  • Based on collected data on ventilation system performance and based on knowledge of infection disease spreading mechanisms, the research team came up with improved ventilation strategy that can reduce disease transmission in classrooms while saving money to school districts.
  • Portable and permanent classrooms were compared considering various environmental quality data (including indoor air quality, light quality, and thermal comfort data) and a set of measures for improvement of portable and permanent classrooms were identified.
  • In collaboration with our project partners "The Children's Environmental Health Institute," we developed a website and a set of short videos that raise awareness of the importance of air quality in classrooms; also, we worked with Dell Medical School at UT at Austin to disseminate the project findings among health practitioners.

b) Outcomes:

Processing of previously collected field data and modeling led to a set interesting and potentially important findings. While not all-inclusive, three major research outcomes resulted from the previous year's work are described below:

1. The air and dust bio samples collected from the high school classrooms indicate that humans are a significant source of indoor microorganisms, particularly on desktops which have direct contact with human occupants. These results suggest that more frequent cleaning of desktops should be considered in schools, particularly if there is concern about mitigating the transfer of microorganisms from one student to the next. The microbial results also demonstrate that there is a strong gradient from outdoor to indoor microbial communities with most outdoor samples enriched in soil-associated taxa clustering together and samples with the greatest human imprint (e.g., desktop) communities clustering separately. In general, the bacterial and fungal community memberships found in classrooms within portable buildings were similar to those found in permanent buildings. However, selected fungal taxa indicative of moisture damage were enriched in some of the portable classrooms. These results suggest that inspection and maintenance of classroom buildings is important to minimize moisture damage and exposure to molds.

2. The collected data on semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) show that SVOCs are widely found in high school classrooms; data show that seasons (primarily temperature), building types, and flooring types have impacts on indoor SVOC concentrations. Samples from floor dust, AC's filter dust and indoor air show that - depending on the type of SVOC- concentration vary significantly from classroom to classroom. For example, phthalates (plasticizers) varied by 25 to 50 times among different classrooms (for sample in the air and dust respectively). When considering pesticides, variations between classrooms were also very significant. Results show that restricted pesticides (pentachlorophenol banned in 1980s) are still abundant, suggesting their persistence in indoor environments. For many pesticides, concentrates are higher in portable classrooms than in permanent classrooms. When considering flame retardants, variations between the classrooms are also very large but there is no statistically significant difference between portable and permanent classrooms. The ongoing analysis of the classrooms and SVOCs data will further identify indoor sources and conditions that results in higher exposure to different SVOCs.

3. As an affordable solution for improvement of air quality in schools, we investigated the benefits from improved ventilation strategy that increased outdoor air supply to reduce student absences due to illness during cold and flu season. Benefits are measured in economic terms as reduced school district absences and hence greater state appropriations. Costs are measured in terms of increased energy use due to increased outdoor air supply rates. Both, benefits and cost, vary for different States, and our study for Texas and California shows that regardless on the appropriation rate and climate conditions this ventilation strategy results in increased air quality, reduced number of illnesses, and money saving for school district. We developed a model that for different appropriation mechanisms associated with student absenteeism and climate condition provides optimum increase in ventilation rate.

Future Activities:

Future Activities Plans:

The remaining budget (value of ~$50K) will support students and faculty for completion of the following tasks during the next activity period (from 6/1/2019 till 1/31/2020):

  • Complete the analysis of field samples and data as related to microbiological samples
  • Finish and submit journal papers listed above
  • Work with school districts on implementation procedures for improvement of air quality in portable and permanent classrooms and publish guidance in the journal fort building operators and practitioners (#10 listed above)
  • Prepare a summary paper on air quality in high school classrooms for an educational journal. The paper will include student and teacher survey results together with the summary of air quality measurements
  • Develop a list of major Healthy High School PRIDE project outcomes for the project website (listed below) and continue using the social media to highlight major findings of our work
  • Journal Papers Ready to be Submitted or in Preparation
  • Kumar, S., Novoselac, A., and Corsi, R. Effect of Ventilation Control on Airborne Infectious Disease Transmission in Schools. In submission to Building and Environment.
  • Wade M., Novoselac, A., Crain, N., and Corsi, R. Formaldehyde Concentrations and Emissions in High Schools. In submission to Indoor Air.
  • Lesnick, L., Hagen, F., Novoselac, A., Crain, N., and Corsi, R. Ozone Concentrations in Permanent and Portable High School Classrooms. In submission to Indoor Air.
  • Maestre, J. P., Bourne, S., Corsi, R., Novoselac, A., and Kinney, K. A. Ventilation, Indoor Air Quality and Microbial Communities in Portable and Permanent Classrooms. In submission to Building and Environment.
  • Maestre, J. P. and Kinney, K. A. Bioaerosols and Surface Microbes in High School Classrooms. In preparation for Microbiome .
  • Li, H., Corsi, R., Novoselac, A., and Xu, Y. Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds in High Schools; Sources, Concentrations and Partitioning on the Indoor Dust. In preparation for Environmental S cience & Technology.
  • Li, H. and Xu, Y. Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds in High Schools; Sources, Concentrations and Partitioning on the Indoor Dust. In preparation for Environmental S cience & Technology.
  • Bourne, S. and Novoselac, A. Portable Classrooms; Maintenance for Better Environmental Qualirt. In preparation for ASHRAE Journal.

Journal Articles:

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

Supplemental Keywords:

Supplemental Keywords: children's respiratory health, community partnership, school practice, mediators, particulates, surveys, attendance.

Relevant Websites:

The Children's Environmental Health Institute Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2015 Progress Report
  • 2016 Progress Report
  • 2017 Progress Report
  • Final Report