Schools’ role in students’ health is no longer simple

Indoor Air Quality is becoming more important to students’ health…rising number of health issues like asthma are not a surprise.

Gone are the days when a school’s health focus was limited to treating playground injuries,

zero VOC paint
Student uses zero VOC paint to add her work to a mural with no adverse effect to her health

performing head lice checks and storing vaccine information on each child. Today’s students’ health issues are more complicated.

What Actions to Take to Improve Students’ Health…

Education Week reported on June 16, that the EPA is advising schools to take systematic action to rid buildings of asthma “triggers.” They also must develop comprehensive “asthma management plans” that coordinate treatment for affected children. School environments can affect students, both with and without asthma, through allergens, poor ventilation, and hazardous chemicals. The EPA has found poor indoor air quality can have measurable effects on  students’ health and academic performance (EPA, 2011a).

EPA recommends a minimum of zero VOC products

For instance, using a polyurethane product for gymnasium refinishing with a VOC level of 350 Grams per Liter is the standard for bad air quality management in facilities. Because of its characterization primarily as a durable industrial coating and it’s extremely low cost it will not go away. At least not until something “hits the fan” and change is forced. These products are quite hazardous for workers and building occupants.  Higher VOC products are extremely flammable and therefore responsible for many fires, explosions, and injuries each year.

Floor products with 350 grams per liter of VOC (volatile organic chemical) are typically used in an OSHA controlled environment.  They require the use of respirators and usually necessitate the use of industrial hygienists to monitor its safe use. Yet, most school gym floor finishes are laden with VOCs at this level and the proper precautions are rarely taken.

Take a leap, and make the switch

Switching to a zero VOC  gym floor finish like Vermont Natural Coatings   , for instance, lowers indoor air pollution. This results in a positive effect on breathing for those children with asthma and complies with the EPA recommendations.

However, moving away from oil based coatings is not easy when the business administrator community that finalizes the purchasing decisions for most schools is not up to speed on what air quality really means to children’s and building occupant’s health. Their decisions are usually based on costs.

improve students' health
Norton – Vermont Natural Coatings MVP high gloss gymnasium finish is a whey protein, bio-based and MFMA certified wood floor coating that is likely the safest choice.

One of the issues is a high gloss gymnasium finish is not a simple product to specify. It must be durable, have the right slip resistance for sports activities and also be safe. A unique approach to gym coatings is to use a fortifier such as whey protein in a bio-based finish. Lowering VOCs dramatically and still having a quick drying formula with fast turnaround is no easy feat. A MFMA certified wood floor coating is highly durable, certified with the appropriate slip-resistance and can carry a far lower VOC rating like < 95 Grams per liter. Using a matching sealer product and top coat makes re-coating work extremely fast and simple, even for in-house staff custodians to do the work.

Excellent performance

There is an excellent track record with these types of products over the last few years with demanding facility managers from other local school districts and those who do their own finishing work. It is important to note there are many generic look a likes in the water based wood floor coatings market. Substituting generic water based products is hazardous because of the inclusion of hormone and endocrine disrupting chemicals that are used as drying agents.

Even though lower quality products bring shorter life spans and higher life cycle costs, they are used extensively in schools for their short term lower cost. Many school districts are scared off of the cheaper alternatives because of the noxious odor and lower performance standards that they are dealing with.

Follow instructions to receive maximum benefit

Applying any product according to manufacturers recommendations is a must in today’s complex world. Putting on several coats, which is recommended, may bring several years of extra service to a gym floor, whereas the one quick coat that most schools receive necessitates returning every year to do the job.  Applying several coats raises costs substantially but yields a higher quality job.

Healthy Product Declarations, Sustainable program Green Schools, Living Building Challenge, Designated Persons, CEFM’s, USGBC, LEED, Blue Ribbon Schools, CHPS, parents, and building occupants with concerns about asthma and allergy triggers recognize the benefits and prefer the use of safer products.

Indoor Air Quality By the Numbers…

A word about proper ventilation which is key to maintaining good air quality in gymnasiums. High VOC products require the following LEED approved formula to make a building safe before occupancy.

Square footage of gym: eg. 100′ x 150′ = 15,000 square feet

Air Flush Requirement: 14,000 cu. ft. clean air x 15,000 square feet = 210,000,000 cu. ft.

Establish Gymnasium Volume Calculation: 15,000 x 35 ft ceiling height = 525,000 cu. ft.

10% Volume Refresh Typical new Building: 52,500 cfm / hour. x 24 = 1,260,000 / day

210,000,000 / 1,260,000 = 166 days until considered safe to occupy.

Bear in mind older schools may have poorer rates of ventilation, while newer LEED schools may flush out in 30 days or less. The vaporized hazardous chemicals in buildings occupied too soon are cleared by occupants who absorb those vapors into their lungs.


Buying cheap always costs more while buying better products saves money

Economically a healthier product can initially cost a little more but can be buffed out and last several years when applied properly and at the proper mil thickness, effectively saving money. Ask the hard questions and get straight answers before committing to the same old thing. Using oil based coatings in schools is simply irresponsible and enough is enough.

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