Are Schools Making Our Kids Sick?

American students spend an average of six to eight hours a day in school, 180 days per year. That’s around 1,260 hours a child spends on school property every year. With this much of your kid’s life spent within the four walls of an institution, it’s troubling to think he or she may have faced exposure to harmful molds and indoor air pollution the entire time. Yet this is exactly what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found in recent studies – that about half of the nation’s schools have potentially harmful indoor air quality (IAQ) problems. That’s about 57,500 schools across the country.

Children and Indoor Air Quality Problems

Children are more susceptible to contaminants in the air than adults. Airborne pollutants such as dust, dirt, mold, bacteria, pollen, and pet dander can cause minor to severe symptoms in children. Health effects can include coughing, sneezing, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, eye irritation, allergies, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, respiratory illnesses, and asthma complications. According to the EPA, nearly one in 13 school-aged children suffer from asthma. Asthma is currently the leading cause of school absenteeism related to chronic illness. Microbes in the air at school can worsen asthma symptoms and cause a range of other harmful effects.

Schools may experience indoor air quality problems due to lack of proper building maintenance and poor custodial efforts. These negligent acts can lead to an unhealthy building and ultimately cause significant problems such as mold growth and poor air quality. The conditions of the school building, HVAC system, windows, walls, and boilers can all affect the health of school-aged children. Sanitation also plays a part in school safety – an unsanitary school can facilitate harmful bacteria growth and disease-carrying pests such as rodents and insects.

Mold growth is another major area of concern in today’s schools. Mold stems from moisture problems, such as roof leaks, gutters that pour water under or into the building, unvented appliances, and insufficient maintenance. Older buildings may have damages that lead to mold growth and require sufficient maintenance to prevent this hazard. Schools and building owners that fail to maintain their premises to avoid mold growth may be guilty of negligence and liable for related child illnesses and injuries.

School Liability for Child Illnesses

According to California premises liability laws, it is up to the school’s managers, custodians, property owners, and others responsible for school maintenance, to keep the school safe for children. This includes property hazards such as faulty staircases and slippery floors, but it also covers air quality and mold growth. People in charge of school or building maintenance must test for harmful levels of pollutants in the air and take steps to remedy the dangerous situation.

For example, school custodians must change HVAC filters often enough to prevent harmful levels of dust mites and dirt in the air circulation system or repair leaking roofs to prevent mold growth. Children with illnesses and conditions related to poor indoor air quality might be victims of school negligence if a preventable circumstance contributed to the injury. A plaintiff may be able to prove a school’s liability through an investigation of the air quality of the school, as well as the school’s maintenance procedures.

Poor indoor air quality and mold growth can lead to severe health consequences in children. Some children may suffer lifelong illnesses such as respiratory diseases. Additionally, allergic reactions caused by mold or pet dander can be life-threatening and lead to further long-term complications for your child. If you have reason to believe your child’s school is at the heart of an illness or injury, speak to a premises liability attorney in California. It is difficult to bring a claim against a school district, but if poor air quality or mold growth really did cause your child’s illness, California law may operate in your favor.