UW Healthy Air, Healthy Schools

Welcome to the project page for the UW Healthy Air, Healthy Schools Project. 


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This study was initiated after discussions by the MOV-UP advisory committee about the impact of airport traffic and other sources of ultrafine particles on air quality in nearby communities. Cities surrounding Sea-Tac Airport came together to fund this pilot study in order to better understand the impact of ultrafine particles on indoor air quality.

We intend to measure and identify the sources of ultrafine particles in indoor air in schools. This will inform future recommendations on air filtration in schools and potentially other public buildings.

Project Goals

  • Inform schools, districts and state legislators on the current ability of building ventilation systems to effectively remove outdoor sources of particles.
  • Quantify the current ability of ventilation solutions to remove indoor generated particles.
  • Identify any additional benefit and cost of in-room filtration and air handling interventions.
  • Based on the experimental measures in an unoccupied classroom, describe the infiltration rates of 1) ultrafine particles of aircraft origin 2) ultrafine particles of traffic origin and 3) wildfire smoke.
  • Communicate study results to partners.

Site Locations

We will conduct this study at a total of five schools in the Federal Way and Highline school districts. These sites have been selected by the University of Washington because they are in the Sea-Tac Airport flight path and represent a variety of air handling designs and building ages. Indoor air quality in these schools is regulated according to existing recommendations.


We plan to measure the current infiltration of outdoor air pollution into select indoor classroom spaces under the current operating conditions and again after deploying a classroom-based intervention. Information obtained will include the air exchange rate, a measure of the exchange of air between the indoor and outdoor spaces, and the infiltration rate of particles from outdoor to indoor spaces. School buildings already actively filter outdoor air as it enters the building. We will measure the current effectiveness of this filtration and determine whether there is added benefit to implementing room based air filtration.

About Air Pollution

There are many sources of indoor and outdoor particle pollution. Outdoor sources of particles include roadway traffic, residential wood burning, aircraft traffic and wildfire smoke. These emission sources produce fine particles and ultrafine particles that can enter indoor spaces. This movement of particles from outdoor to indoors is called infiltration. Air can enter buildings through openings, joints, and cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings, and around windows and doors. Indoor sources of particles include cooking, vacuuming/cleaning activities, and generation of particles by people. Room based air filtration units have the potential to remove some sources of particle pollution. Reducing indoor sources of pollution is also a major step in lowering the number of particles indoors. High rates of infiltration can result in indoor spaces having worse air quality than the outdoors.

Outdoor fine particles have known impacts on health, especially for children, elderly and those with cardiovascular disease and asthma. Fine particles and ultrafine particles are at least 30 times smaller than the diameter of the average human hair. Small particles are of greatest concern because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream. Some health effects of indoor air pollution may show up immediately, including irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Immediate effects are usually short-term and can go away by lowering indoor air pollution. Other health effects may show up years later, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer.


This project is being conducted through a partnership between the University of Washington, the cities of SeaTac, Burien, Federal Way, Normandy Park and Des Moines, the Federal Way Public Schools, and the Highline Public Schools.


All final results from this project will be shared via this webpage as well as directly with all partners.


University of Washington: Please contact Dr. Elena Austin with specific questions about measurement methods or project outcome (elaustin@uw.edu).

Federal Way Public Schools: Sally McLean, Chief Finance and Operations, smclean@fwps.org and Kassie Swenson, Chief of Communications and Strategy, kswenson@fwps.org

Highline Public Schools: For specific information about participation of Highline Public Schools please contact Catherine Carbone Rogers.