Indoor Air Quality of Cleveland Schools: Improving the Air Our Children Breathe

Janet Babin- Each year, the U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that 10 million school days are missed because of asthma, a chronic and potentially dangerous ailment. The G.A.O. report also found that 50% of the country's schools have poor ventilation and significant sources of pollution. This especially affects children with asthma, who are more susceptible to indoor pollutants.

Debbie Alloshin- My name is Debbie Alloshin. I'm head nurse in the Cleveland Municipal School District, Newton Baker. Asthma is one of the scariest diseases around.

JB- Nurse Alloshin says there have been times when she didn't know if an asthmatic kid was going to make it.

DA- Had a child one time who was an undiagnosed asthmatic -- he had an attack and within three minutes his fingers were turning blue.

JB- Alloshin says in her 16 years with the Cleveland School District, the number of kids she deals with who have asthma has quadrupled. The ailment is increasing across the country: The Centers For Disease Control in Atlanta has documented a 160% rise in the incidence of asthma among young children.

The U.S. EPA is trying to identify and correct the poor indoor air quality in many schools that can trigger asthma attacks. The agency's implementing a program in about 20 Cleveland school buildings called Tools For Schools. Under the program, Cleveland janitors and other operations officials will complete the tools kits and collect data to be compiled at the end of the school year. Mary Smith is director of indoor air quality at the EPA. She describes Tools For Schools as a management program that asks schools to establish a team of people to do a walk thru inspection.

Mary Smith- The walkthrough might identify areas where there's mold growing in ceiling tiles; it might identify areas where filters haven't been changed in ventilation units, or where teachers are putting books in places that block air coming into the classroom.

JB- While the kit offers low cost or no cost solutions to cleaning up indoor air, it does not set standards that identify what constitutes poor indoor air quality. Smith says the EPA doesn't have the legislative authority to set indoor air quality guidelines.

MS- We don't have the data yet to provide those numbers.

JB- Tools For Schools is taking place in conjunction with an American Lung Association program called Open Airways that partners school nurses with kids who have asthma.

The need to address child asthma in Cleveland became apparent after a 1999 study by Dr. Alfred Rimm the Chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Rimm's report found that admissions to the emergency room among asthmatic children in the city's medicaid population were higher than in the rest of the state.

Alfred Rimm- Now that is the most inefficient way to care for someone is when you have an attack, not knowing what to do you wind up in an (emergency) room which is the most expensive part of the healthcare system, as a result of this these new programs are to educate both the student and the parent that if you have an asthma attack what to do, what drugs to take so yo don't wind up in the (emergency) room of a hospital.

JB- Earlier this week about eight cleveland school nurses gathered at Hart Middle School on East 74th Streeet to share their experiences with asthmatic kids.

Nurse- Last year I had a student who kept using his inhaler when I wasn't there. He would over dose himself, and the teachers didn't know it.

JB- Cleveland Manager of Health Services Jeanette Dunlap says the goal of Open Airways is to help children take charge of their disease.

Jeanette Dunlap- We targeted schools in the district that have a high population of asthmatics - we want to see if this program can educate and produce results.

JB- The six training sessions between students and school nurses begin next week and are expected to be completed by March. The Tools For Schools program data will be gathered at the end of the year. Dunlap says officials expect a correlation between the number of kids with asthma attacks and poor indoor air quality in district schools. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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