Sydney Gerig

Project title: K-12 School Environmental Health & Safety in Washington

Degree: MS (Thesis) | Program: Environmental Health (EH) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2023 | Faculty advisor: Tania M Busch Isaksen


The school environment is one of the primary locations where children spend time and is known to present numerous health hazards. Poor air quality is a known public health risk, especially for children, impacting health, attendance, and learning outcomes, but schools face many challenges in improving the school environment. This thesis aimed to review existing literature on indoor air quality (IAQ) hazards in U.S. schools and describe local health jurisdiction (LHJ) perspectives of school environmental health and safety (EH&S) in Washington. The narrative literature review describes school EH&S hazards related to IAQ, along with potential health effects, exposure routes, and control measures. Findings reveal that school IAQ hazards are diverse and associated with varied health effects including respiratory disease, neurological effects, and cancer. This study also investigated the state of school EH&S in Washington through a survey and interviews with key informants at LHJs. Critical needs of LHJs include updated regulations and funding for school EH&S programs. Our findings reveal the critical need for school EH&S programs, especially focused on IAQ. Essential components for such programs include improved ventilation and filtration, regular inspection and maintenance, and safer choices for materials, furnishings, equipment, and chemicals. Trained EH&S personnel on campus and established surveillance systems are also critical to identify and proactively manage health hazards. School EH&S programs offer a unique opportunity for public health intervention on a vulnerable population. Prioritizing and investing in school EH&S creates safer and healthier learning environments, benefiting students, staff, and the community.