Southeastern to help monitor air quality in Tangipahoa schools
Contact: Rene Abadie
HAMMOND – A project designed to monitor and help improve the indoor air quality in Tangipahoa Parish schools is being spearheaded by a Southeastern Louisiana University occupational safety and health specialist.
With a $38,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ephraim Massawe, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Industrial Technology, will work with area school officials, teachers, staff and parents to develop and implement indoor air quality improvement programs based on the EPA’s indoor air quality “Tools for Schools” (TfS) program.
The project will target more than 40 public and private schools in the parish, as well as at least 30 private homes where indoor air quality will be monitored with equipment and supplies provided through the grant. The grant covers an 18-month period.
“Our goals are to train school coordinators who can document the current situation of indoor air quality in the schools and then implement various cost-effective measures based on the TfS to improve and sustain air quality in our schools, homes and other microenvironments, such as school buses,” said Massawe.
Poor indoor air quality is a subtle yet serious public health hazard, particularly in schools, homes, hospitals and other public buildings, he said, and people spend more than 90 percent of their time in these indoor environments. Indoor air pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor air levels.
Typical sources of indoor air pollutants include science lab and art supplies, cleaning materials, pesticides, copy and print machines, and volatile organic compounds from paint chalk and adhesives. Heating and air conditioning equipment can also contribute to the collection of pollen, dust and fungal spores.
“Louisiana has a relatively high rate of lung diseases, which are made worse by poor indoor air quality,” he said. “Poor air quality has been highly correlated with respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Poor indoor air quality affects children, elderly and the infirm more than healthy individuals.”
The Bureau of Primary Health Care and Rural Health in the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reports that about 200,000 adults in the state suffer from asthma, a chronic lung condition characterized by episodes of coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. In about 10 percent of all households with children, at least one or more of the children has asthma. The American Lung Association of Louisiana estimates there are more than 2,900 cases of pediatric asthma and nearly 7,000 cases among adults living in Tangipahoa Parish.
“The state statistics also confirm that women, children and African Americans are the disproportionately most impacted by asthma,” he explained.
Massawe said over the next several months he and several assistants will visit with selected schools and representative residents – generally parents and guardians of children – to train individual coordinators who will assist with training others, be responsible for monitoring the air quality within the schools using equipment supplied to them, and report progress towards achieving set targets.
Schools performing well in the program will have an opportunity to showcase their successes and share their stories with the rest of the country, he said.
“We believe other schools in the United States would be able to learn some lessons from the schools that implement strategies to improve and sustain high indoor air quality,” Massawe continued.
The project has the full support of Hammond Mayor Mayson Foster, the Tangipahoa Parish School System, the Bureau of Primary Care and Rural Health, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals - Office of Public Health and officials associated with the private schools.
“Indoor air quality is a concern in schools in general and in Tangipahoa Parish Schools in particular,” said Mark Kolwe, superintendent of the Tangipahoa Parish School System. “The grant will allow Southeastern to conduct essential scientific investigations that will expand our knowledge based on environmental triggers of asthma and how to prevent or minimize them. The outreach and training materials will help us improve the indoor air quality in our school and will benefit the parents and guardians of our students as well as the entire parish community.”
Cities and public schools participating in the project include: Amite: Amite Elementary, Amite High School, Westside Middle; Covington: Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center; Hammond: Hammond Eastside Elementary, Hammond High, Hammond Junior High, Southeastern Lab School, Tangipahoa Alternative, Woodland Park Elementary, Tangipahoa Parish PM High School, Hammond Westside Elementary; Independence: Independence Elementary, Independence High School, Independence Middle School; Kentwood: Chesbrough Elementary, O.W. Dillon Elementary, Kentwood High; Spring Creek Elementary, Jewel M. Sumner High School, Jewel M. Sumner Middle School; Loranger: Loranger Elementary, Loranger High, Loranger Middle; Natalbany: Midway Elementary, Natalbany Elementary, Nesom Middle School; Ponchatoula: Perrin Early Learning Center, Ponchatoula High, D.C. Reeves Elementary, Tucker Elementary, Martha Vinyard Elementary, Ponchatoula Junior High; Roseland: Roseland Elementary.
Private schools participating include: Gordon-Richardson Christian Academy and Oak Forest Academy in Amite; Emmanuel School, St. Thomas Aquinas High, Holy Ghost Elementary, Harvest Christian Academy, Oaks Montessori, and Trafton Academy in Hammond; Mater Dolorosa Catholic School in Independence, and St. Joseph School in Ponchatoula.