We've all heard stories about dirty government politics and school funding. But this one takes the dirt to another level - all the way to the air in our children's classrooms.
Federal agencies have known for years that the air in government owned school buildings is unhealthy - and it's costing taxpayers Billions of dollars each year that could be used for school funding. In fact, we might not even have a school budget crisis if our government would clean the air in our classrooms.
How can this be? In a word, "Medicaid." In a school with 550 students, almost 200 of them have their healthcare costs paid by Medicaid - which gets its funding from the same sources that fund our schools, Federal and State governments. And, it's costing us a fortune - about $500,000 a year per school. If your school district has five elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school - Medicaid costs are about $4 Million a year!
So, what's driving the cost? One major cost driver is respiratory illness. In fact, Asthma and allergies are the number one and number three chronic diseases among children. And, the quality of the air in your child's classroom may play a role in aggravating the problem. Classrooms have very high levels of airborne particulates - such as mold, dust, animal dander, and pollen - all of which are major triggers for Asthma and allergies. This is a major cost factor for Medicaid - wasting tax dollars that could be used to help the school budget crisis. Asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization in children and accounts for one quarter of all emergency room visits. Allergies bring children to outpatient office visits more than 17 million times each year. And, rescue Asthma inhalers are the #1 prescription for children on Medicaid programs in all 50 States.
But, what's really going to drive you mad is that our government already knows that classrooms in their buildings have poor indoor air quality and they know exactly how to improve it. Airborne particulates can be filtered out of the air before they get to the lungs of our children. And there are plenty of private sector experts who know how to do this. "We've reduced student absenteeism by as much as 61% and Asthma inhaler use by as much as 70% in some schools," says Stan Brannan who is President of Purifan, a manufacturer of classroom air purifiers. "By reducing airborne particulate matter, we are reducing the triggers that cause Asthma and allergy attacks that often result in increased healthcare costs for doctor visits, medicines, and parent's lost time at work to care for a sick child."
Products like Purifan have been proven to work. And, there is an important additional benefit to reducing the amount of matter floating around in the air of our classrooms - it keeps all the rest of us healthier too. About 20% of our Country's population spends seven hours a day in a school. Environments like classrooms that have high levels of airborne particles, make it easier for seasonal colds and flu to pass from person to person by a method called "particle droplet transmission." Essentially, viruses get a piggy-back ride on an airborne particle which floats around until it is inhaled and infects the next child. That child brings the illness home to their Parents, who take it to work and pass it around and around. So, the next time you get a cold, you may well have your local school to thank for it. If the government would filter the air in their school buildings, airborne particulates could be reduced and lessen the potential for colds and influenza transmission. And we might all be healthier as a result.
Should we build new schools? Maybe green schools are the answer. No. In fact, new green schools may even make the matter worse. These buildings are designed to be energy efficient and the HVAC systems run less often. The reduced air circulation can cause an even higher concentration of particulates in the classroom and stagnant air is a haven for mold growth. In addition, HVAC systems can't move enough air to filter some larger particles that trigger Asthma, allergy, and the transmission of illness.
What can you do to help? Tell every Parent you know about this problem. In fact, send them a copy of this article or post it on your Facebook page. Call your local school and tell the Administration that you want something done to improve the air your child breathes in the classroom - and you're tired of your tax dollars paying for Medicaid bills that poor classroom air is causing. Don't let them tell you there's not a problem. They'll often test the air when no children are present to stir up the dust and animal dander - in between mold blooms - after pollen has settled onto the desks and floor - and with devices that test about a 30 second gulp of air. Our kids breathe 4,200 liters of contaminated classroom air everyday. Dirty classroom air and its cost impact on Medicaid may be contributing to the school budget crisis facing our State and Federal governments. Let's get classroom air under control and stop wasting school funds.