Whether you’re a parent, educator, or school board member, you should be aware of dangerous gases and how they can impact schools. Many harmful gases are quite common in schools, and they can cause both short-term and long-term health consequences with enough exposure. Discover the importance of classroom gas detection and how to keep your students safe.
Dangerous Gases in the Classroom
While researchers regularly report on the levels of dangerous gases in offices and workspaces, science has been slower to monitor the presence of these same gases in schools. Unfortunately, sources of carbon monoxide, ammonia, and other toxic fumes are common in schools, and their effects can mimic other, less problematic health conditions.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a well-known poisonous gas that can be a problem in homes, offices, and schools. However, many schools do not have carbon monoxide detectors in place because they’re not required to have them. This means there are limited ways to discover a carbon monoxide problem before any damage is done.
Carbon monoxide can cause the following symptoms, which people often mistake for less serious health problems:
- Trouble focusing
Like many of the gases on this list, symptoms usually worsen over time with repeated exposure.
Sources of Carbon Monoxide in Schools
Carbon monoxide is most common in schools with gas boilers and furnaces. All it takes is a tiny leak in the ventilation for the poisonous gas to begin spreading into classrooms. However, there are many other, less-obvious sources in schools, like gas-powered floor cleaning machines, gas kitchen ranges and kilns, forklifts, lawnmowers, and backup generators.
One often-ignored source of CO in schools is the line of cars and buses waiting outside during drop-off and pickup. If these vehicles are near the school building, they can produce enough gas to seep indoors through the ventilation system. It is very important to make sure all vehicle lines are far enough away from the main school building.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a much less harmful gas than its mono-oxygen atom cousin. In fact, it’s the gas humans and other animals exhale into the air as we breathe. However, in high enough concentrations, carbon dioxide can cause negative health consequences, including the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Worsened allergies and asthma
Sources of Carbon Dioxide in Schools
Because humans exhale carbon dioxide, the gas is everywhere we go. In many cases, carbon dioxide does not cause any problems. If it did, we would all get sick from breathing our own air.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens in densely populated spaces. When a classroom is packed with students and does not have proper ventilation, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the room rises, changing the percentage of oxygen in the air. On average, some people will begin experiencing symptoms of breathing too much carbon dioxide when the concentration is around 1000 parts-per-million (ppm).
According to one study completed in Toronto, experts found that over 40 percent of classrooms had CO2 levels high enough for some students to begin experiencing symptoms. While these levels were not high enough to cause serious health consequences, they did impact students’ abilities to focus and perform well in their studies.
Another poisonous gas sometimes found in schools is hydrogen sulfide (H2S), also known as sewer gas. As the name implies, hydrogen sulfide forms through the decomposition of plant and animal material, a process very common in sewers. It is easy to recognize because of its rotten egg smell.
With enough exposure, symptoms of hydrogen sulfide poisoning can include the following symptoms:
- Eye irritation
- Respiratory irritation
- Upset stomach
Sources of Hydrogen Sulfide in Schools
Hydrogen sulfide poses a risk in nearly every school because of the many toilets and drains. However, it is a particular problem in older buildings, especially ones that have recently undergone renovation work.
In one episode at a high school, the teachers noticed a strong sewer smell in the building and notified the administration, but it was a long time before anyone discovered the cause of the smell. In the meantime, students and teachers using that part of the building were at high risk for hydrogen sulfide exposure. Some teachers even reported needing to take medical leave because of the gas.
Unfortunately, regulations do not always take into consideration the real seriousness of these common but dangerous gases. As in the above example, tests conducted by the district denied there were dangerous levels of toxic gases present in the building, but people were clearly experiencing negative health consequences. This ultimately means the regulations were not stringent enough.
Ammonia is another common gas with a notoriously strong smell. Since it dissolves easily in water, you’ll often see it used as a liquid cleaner. When working around ammonia, it is very important not to breathe in the fumes, which can cause the following symptoms:
- Burning sensation in nose, eyes, and throat
- Watery eyes
- Shortness of breath
Sources of Ammonia in Schools
As mentioned, ammonia is a common cleaning agent used in schools, offices, and other places. However, it is also a refrigerant gas and is used in insulation and fertilizer. Anytime students or teachers are exposed to ammonia, it presents a health risk.
Unfortunately, since ammonia is in so many different products, it can be hard to know if you have been exposed recently. However, the characteristic smell is one way to recognize ammonia in the vicinity.
What To Do if You Suspect Exposure
If you think you’ve been exposed to any of the gases on this list, you should monitor your symptoms and see a medical professional as soon as possible. Many of the symptoms on these lists can mimic the symptoms of other health issues, and only a trained professional will know the difference. A medical professional can also assess your risk for long-term health issues, which may take time to manifest.
How To Detect Poisonous Gases in Schools
Classroom gas detection is extremely important for catching problems before they impact the lives of teachers and students. Since many poisonous gases are odorless and have multiple sources, using a stationary gas detector is the best way to monitor them.
You can find stationary gas detectors for all of the gases on this list at TG Technical Services. Our goal is to help you keep teachers, students, and other school staff members safe and healthy. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about choosing a gas detector for your school.