2018 Progress Report: Environmental Quality, Health and Learning in Conventional and High Performance School Buildings

EPA Grant Number: R835637
Title: Environmental Quality, Health and Learning in Conventional and High Performance School Buildings
Investigators: Batterman, Stuart A. , McCaughtry, Nathan A , Mukherjee, Bhramar , Somers, Cheryl L , Thun, Geoffrey , Wineman, Jean
Current Investigators: Batterman, Stuart A. , Somers, Cheryl L , McCaughtry, Nate
Institution: University of Michigan , Wayne State University
Current Institution: Wayne State University , University of Michigan
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: November 20, 2014 through November 19, 2018 (Extended to November 19, 2019)
Project Period Covered by this Report: November 20, 2017 through November 19,2018
Project Amount: $1,000,000
RFA: Healthy Schools: Environmental Factors, Children’s Health and Performance, and Sustainable Building Practices (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Children's Health , Endocrine Disruptors , Human Health


The proposed research plan has three goals: (1) increasing our understanding of the relationship between environmental factors and the health and academic performance of students, teachers and staff; (2) evaluating the use and effectiveness of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) measures used in high performance school buildings; and (3) promoting an understanding of the importance of IEQ in schools and IEQ targets for high performance buildings and informing the next generation of standards for the sustainable design of schools.

Progress Summary:

Following phase 1, which evaluated IEQ parameters in a cross-section of 37 recently constructed or recently renovated elementary school buildings, balanced between high performance (LEED-certified and EnergyStar) buildings and similarly sized buildings located in the US Midwest, we selected three schools for phase 2 of the project for an intensive analysis of ventilation and filtration and children's health. Following our repeated measures study design, we assessed conditions at five time points: (1) baseline (September 2016); (2) use of a higher ventilation rate in a portion of the building (November 2016); and then (3) use of a higher ventilation rate in a different portion of the building with a return to baseline in the first portion (December 2016). After returning ventilation conditions back to baseline, we then evaluated (4) the use of MERV 13 filters in a portion of the building compared to the original MERV8 (February 2017); and (5) use of MERV 13 filters in a different portion of the building, again with a return to MERV 8 filters in the first portion (March 2017). Approximately 6 weeks following each of these conditions, we utilized the PACER test to assess children's cardio-respiratory performance, and administered a battery of tests (Curriculum Based Measures, CBT) to children in the schools to assess their learning progress. Both PACER and CBT tests were administered to children in the 2ndto 5thgrade classrooms. At the same time, we characterized IEQ parameters in 4 classrooms in each school, using multiday measurements of key IEQ parameters, e.g., ventilation and air exchange rates, carbon dioxide (CO2), particulate matter (PM), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), noise level. After the initial assessment, one school dropped out from the study, causing the student numbers to drop from approximately 900 to 550. While lower than the initial plan, the number of students will still maintain sufficient statistical power for the analyses underway.

Our quality assurance activities have continued and our requirements have been met...

The progress of data analysis and modeling in Phase 2 has been delayed as the PhD student doing this work has dropped out of the program for personal reasons. We anticipate hiring a new student in the summer or fall of 2019 to complete the modeling analysis; this has the potential of delaying the final desired output, but we will endeavor to complete the project in a timely manner.

For phase 3, we also have initiated outreach and education activities with a number of schools and community organizations, focusing in Michigan and in the greater Detroit area. This includes an active "school filter committee," that involves schools, industry, community-based organizations, and others. This has led to several outcomes as noted below.

Outputs of Year 3:From phase 1, we have documented conditions in the 37 schools and 137 classrooms in phase 1, including physical-chemical measures, building and HVAC information, derived information (ventilation rates), teacher surveys, occupancy surveys, etc. We have published a number of papers and presented findings at several conferences and meetings examining VOC levels, air change rates, and other aspects of environmental quality in the test schools. We also have data on from approximately 300 teacher surveys. From phase 2, we collected repeated measures of individual-level data from children during the several interventions designed to evaluate effects of advanced filtration and higher air change rates. We also acquired student absenteeism data in the three schools. These data have been cleaned, a data dictionary has been developed, exploratory statistical analyses have been completed, and several statistical models have been used to provide preliminary evaluations of the effect of the interventions on absenteeism and PACER scores. The CBT test data has been scored and cleaned.

Outcomes:As noted above,we completed a number of analyses from the phase 1 and 2 activities. We published five manuscripts that examine VOC levels and ventilation rates in the buildings, and that examine the health impacts of filters on children with asthma. Generally, school specific factors, including HVAC systems and teacher behaviors, but not classification as a high-performance or conventional building, affect VOC levels and ventilation rates. One of the papers provides a critical review of CO2-based methods commonly used to estimate ventilation rates, and suggests a number of enhancements designed to improve accuracy of these methods, which is important given the conditions observed in the schools, e.g., variable occupancy. The paper examining effects of advanced filtration on children's health, which uses a health impact evaluation approach, along with cost information, suggests that MERV 13 and above filters can provide significant benefits in terms or reduced symptoms and absenteeism. Then translated into dollars, drop-in filters may be cost-effective. We presented results at several professional and practitioner meetings (see below).

We conducted a number of outreach activities to promote an understanding of the importance of school environmental quality on the health and performance of children in schools. This includes meeting with policy and legislative officials to discuss school IEQ issues in Lansing and Detroit, convening a Michigan group on school filters, and assisting a number of school and community organizations. Recently (early 2019), we helped a Detroit group, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SWDEV), obtain an Erb Foundation grant to deploy advanced filters in schools, and are actively assisting with this work. This grant will assist with obtaining additional support to equip, ideally all of Detroit schools, with better filters. It also includes the use of low cost monitoring techniques used by students and teachers, both to assess performance and to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. We will use our higher performance equipment to verify the test results, thus complementing information from the low cost sensors.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 10 publications for this project

Progress and Final Reports:

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