For August, our focus is on the issue of Air Quality in our community and around our schools. So, for this month’s Ask Nancy, we look at questions about air quality from members around the State of Washington.


If our school does not have an AC system, what should we do when the air is smoky filled?

Nancy says:

I have been talking to colleagues in California to determine what they have done about closing schools during extreme smoke and heat. If there is a mechanical ventilation system, then these guidelines should make the school safer than most homes.

Improving Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality during Wildfire Smoke Events (PDF).

If there is no mechanical ventilation and it is too hot to open windows, then the school needs to evaluate each individual situation as you have been doing. Is the school a better site than most homes? Are children/staff with medical conditions better off at home or school?

The usual steps to cool buildings should be followed, including use of shading and fans and brining in cooler nighttime air. Peggy Jenkins with the California Air Resources Board said they have found that even with windows partly opened to bring in air, the large mechanical air cleaners can significantly reduce the PM2.5 levels, by half or more. She specifically recommended the following brands:  Alen, AllerAir, Airpura, and IQAir. CARB certifies air cleaners and maintains a wealth of information on them. It is most important that only certified air cleaners be used so that ozone is not being produced. The companies should be consulted about the needs, including sizing and quiet motors. Electronic machines that use ionization and/or UV are not necessary. If they are CARB certified they won’t be harmful, but research has not shown they add significantly. Charcoal HEPA is better as the charcoal helps remove harmful gases. HEPA alone was found during the 2012 wildfires to help significantly. During the 2012 fires Clear Risk Solutions, the risk carrier for many of the Washington school districts, was able to rent machines faster and cheaper than the state.

Consumers’ Air Cleaner Portal

California Certified Air Cleaning Devices

Hopefully our air will improve soon!


With the smoke-weather drifting down over WA from fires in BC, what should we be concerned with for safe outdoor play and kids health?

Nancy says:

Smoke from wildfires is affecting much of Washington State. If there is smoke present in your area, follow these recommendations:

You need to take extra care if you have a heart or lung condition, diabetes, are pregnant or over 65, as well as infants and children. Seek medical attention if the smoke is effecting your health.

For more information:  

The “Smoke from Fires” website has information about:

  • Guidance for keeping indoor air cleaner. Be aware that having people close windows who do not have air conditioning may pose health risks for overheating.
  • “Wildfire Smoke and Face Mask Fact Sheet”. It’s important to wear the right kind of mask. Face masks do not work well on small children or people with beards. We recommend that people with pre-existing heart and lung conditions consult a health care provider about using a mask because wearing a mask can make it more difficult to breathe.

The WA Smoke Blog has updated information about smoke for public use: . Check with your regional clean air authority for more specific updates for your area.



What are some suggestions for improving and maintaining healthy air quality in schools?

Nancy says:

Achieving healthy air quality in schools takes administrators, custodians, and teachers working together. Good ventilation and source control of pollutants means healthy indoor air quality.

Follow these general tips to get started:

  • Teachers and staff need to know who to contact for indoor air quality concerns in the school.
  • There should be a written school or district indoor environmental quality plan that includes indoor air quality and integrated pest management.
  • Notify school or district indoor air quality contact or maintenance staff if you detect odors or dust from locations such as shops, copy rooms, science labs, laminators, locker rooms, graphic arts, custodial supply rooms, storage areas, combustion equipment, kitchens, or bus exhaust. Document your concerns.
  • Immediately report any water leaks, water stains, damp materials, or unusual odors (such as musty or moldy smells) to maintenance staff.
  • Maintenance staff should respond to water leaks and moisture problems within 24 hours.
  • Relative humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent are better for health. Low relative humidity leads to dry eyes and respiratory irritation. High relative humidity allows dust mites to grow and promotes condensation.
  • Dispose of food wastes promptly in covered containers.

Ventilation is key!  Operate the ventilation system continually when the school is in use, including during custodial work. Supply at least 15 cubic feet per minute per person of fresh outside air whenever the school is in use. See WSU Energy Program’s Good Ventilation is Essential for a Healthy and Efficient Building (PDF).  An occupied room is considered to be receiving the minimum amount of fresh air when indoor carbon dioxide levels are at approximately 700 parts per million (ppm) over outside ambient carbon dioxide levels. See WSU Energy Program’s Measuring Carbon Dioxide Inside Buildings (PDF).

Rules to follow regarding ventilation:

  • Maintain three feet of clearance around unit ventilators and don’t put items on top of them that blocks airflow.
  • Change ventilation filters regularly. Use the highest rated, deepest pleat filters the system can accommodate.
  • Check to make sure that supply air diffusers, exhaust, and return grills are not blocked. They should be clean and dry.
  • Don’t turn off unit ventilators – ask maintenance staff to repair noisy units, control temperatures, and control drafts.
  • Monitor windows – they should not show condensation except on the very coldest of days.
  • Don’t allow vehicle idling on school property.
  • Maintenance staff should follow integrated pest management strategies. Don’t use pesticides in the building.



Do you have a list of asthma triggers and how we can work to reduce asthma outbreaks for students?

Nancy says:

Planning and smart habits will greatly control asthma outbreaks which are triggered by the following particulates.

Control Dust

  • All outside doors should have large entry mat barriers (walk-off mats) outside and just inside the door. The mats should provide at least four to seven footfalls.
  • Maintain cleanable surfaces and avoid clutter. Put loose items into plastic boxes with lids that can be wet-wiped.
  • Damp-wipe surfaces weekly with a micro-fiber cloth.
  • Don’t hang items from the ceiling T-bars without special clips to prevent fraying fiberglass. Remove or clean items when dusty.
  • Discourage clutter by removing as many unnecessary dust-collecting items as possible.
  • Use pre-mixed and pre-wetted clay art supplies whenever possible to reduce dusts.
  • Replace fabric upholstered furniture with furniture easily dusted.
  • Remove area rugs that cannot be regularly cleaned and that trap dirt and moisture.

Reduce Animal Allergens, including Dust Mites

  • Animals shouldn’t be classroom residents and should only come to school for educational purposes.
  • Use integrated pest management practices to prevent cockroach and rodent infestations.
  • Store food in tightly sealed containers.
  • Seal all cracks and crevices.
  • Grate all foundation and roof ventilation.
  • Use barriers to discourage birds roosting.
  • Wash stuffed animals and blankets in hot water every two weeks, or remove them.

Reduce Chemicals

  • Don’t use permanent, solvent-based or scented pens, markers, and board cleaners. Use water-based, unscented, crayon-based, or low-odor items.
  • Don’t use room deodorizing sprays, plug-ins, scented candle warmers, scented reeds, candles, incense, therapeutic oils, or potpourris.
  • Don’t use urinal cakes in bathrooms.
  • Avoid spray adhesives, contact cement, and volatile paints. If spray adhesives are necessary, use hexane and toluene-free products. Wear solvent-resistant gloves. Spray in an area with local exhaust ventilation and away from children. See King County’s Selecting Safer Art Adhesives.
  • Don’t bring chemicals, cleaners, or disinfectants from home. Use only those provided by the school or district.
  • Never use air-cleaning devices that generate ozone. Ozone is a respiratory irritant.
  • Discourage the use of perfumes, colognes, body sprays and other strongly scented personal care products.
  • Hazardous chemicals in laboratories, chemical storages, shops, art rooms, and any other areas need to be properly stored and managed to prevent air contamination.

Carpet Care

  • Whenever possible, don’t allow food or beverages in classrooms. If possible, vacuum daily (when children are not present). Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter – or use HEPA vacuum bags. Having both is even better.
  • Avoid use of area rugs. They can trap moisture and dirt under them.
  • Clean carpets thoroughly with truck-mounted hot water and steam extraction once or twice per year.
    • Spot treat carpet as needed first.
    • Use the minimum amount necessary of low-odor and low-sudsing carpet shampoo.
    • All shampoo and cleaner needs to be thoroughly extracted until the water runs clean.
    • Carpet should dry thoroughly within 24 to 48 hours after cleaning.
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