ASK THE EXPERTS:
Karen Robinson and Sandra Moser respond:
* Often IEQ related symptoms may be mistaken for the flu, cold or allergies. Children may appear pale and may have dark circles under their eyes.Consult your child's doctor to eliminate other possible causes of illness. Be aware that few physicians have been trained to recognize health problems arising from indoor contaminants.
Look for symptoms which decrease or disappear when your child leaves the school building. Symptoms may appear during the school hours but disappear during evenings, weekends or vacations.
Keep a detailed journal, providing that your child is old enough, listing the types of symptoms and the time of day, day of week, location in the building, activity that your child is involved in and, if possible, activities taking place nearby when the symptoms occur. If your child is not old enough to participate in the journal activity, enlist the help of your child's teacher.
Look for symptoms that come and go following a particular pattern. For example, does your child get headaches every Thursday, or come home in tears every Tuesday? It could be associated with a particular activity or place in the school (eg. a chemistry or art class, a delivery van outside the window, custodial activities or a room which once stored cleaning chemicals.)
Children who have heart disease, asthma or other respiratory diseases, allergies or weakened immune systems, or wear contact lenses may be particularly susceptible to IEQ problems. In general, children are more vulnerable to air quality problems than adults. Sometimes a problem is an individual one, such as a child who has sensitivities to chalk or scented products, while other times the problem may be wider in scope and affect many children.
Mould growth, oil or gas fumes, or maintenance
activities can effect numbers of children. It may help to find out if other
children are having similar problems. It is primarily the school principal
who is responsible to ensure the safety of everyone in the building. If
your child is having a problem which you think is related to the school
environment, you will need to speak with the child's teacher or principal
first. Give them as much information as you can. Once you have registered
your concerns, it is the responsibility of the principal to investigate
or bring in someone to investigate. The principal may know if other people
have complained of similar problems. They could do a survey to find out
how widespread a problem is. In some cases, immediate evacuation
may be necessary, in cases such as a hazardous chemical spill, roof tarring,
oil spill or leak, combustion gas leak, sewer gas leak or if renovations
were done that have resulted in gassing off of paint, caulks or other materials.
In some cases there may not be an easily identifiable hazard, but there
may be widespread symptoms such as breathing difficulties, chest tightness,
respiratory irritation or carbon monoxide poisoning-like symptoms, including
headaches, dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. In these cases, the health
effects are the only obvious indication of the existence of a hazard, and
Too often everyone believes it is "someone else's job" to make sure problems are solved. Things tend to work better when everyone involved takes some form of "ownership" of their school and each other's welfare. If there is reason to believe that there may be a health hazard (one that can not quickly be removed or handled), the first priority has to be to remove or isolate children and staff from the perceived hazard until it can be (a) repaired or (b) proven to be of no risk. In some cases, this means temporarily closing all or part of a school.
The most important thing to remember
is this:Even though there are others
Note:all these issues are relevant to teachers and other school staff. Those represented by unions may first want to contact their union or joint occupational health and safety representative. Any employee can contact the Department of Labour if they feel their work environment is jeopardizing their health.
Karen Robinson and
Sandy Moser work with Citizens for a Safe Learning