How to Protect Your Child from Bad Air—Even at School!
If you are a parent, you try to protect your children from life’s dangers. You probably told them to look both ways before crossing the street. Warned them not to talk to strangers. Advised them always to use sunblock.
But how do you talk to your child about air quality? How do you protect them from bad air at home, on the playground, or even in the classroom?
The sad reality is that you can’t always be there to identify threats, and worse still, there are airborne toxins out there which are virtually undetectable without the proper equipment.
Take carbon monoxide (CO), for instance. CO is a tasteless, odorless, and colorless
pollutant created whenever fuels such as wood, kerosene, natural gas, or propane are burned. Breathing too much CO can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and—in high enough concentrations—even unconsciousness or death.
If that alone wasn’t scary enough, consider this: only a handful of states have laws or regulations requiring devices capable of monitoring for this “silent killer” in schools.
Indeed, only California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Utah, and West Virginia have such laws in place though some statutes are more limited in scope than others. Colorado, for example, only requires carbon monoxide detectors where fossil fuel-fired heaters and appliances are used—areas most likely to see a dangerous buildup of the gas. Similarly, West Virginia’s CO laws only apply to new or renovated schools.
But schools in other states often learn the dangers of poor air quality the hard way. Less than a year ago at Marshall Middle School in Beaumont, Texas, over one hundred students and staff required medical attention after several students complained of being light-headed. A preliminary inspection by Beaumont Fire officials identified carbon monoxide as the culprit, most likely leaked from a boiler within the building. There were no carbon monoxide detectors in the school.
Thankfully, in that instance, there were no severe or life-threatening injuries reported, but that is not always the case—at schools, at work, or even in the home. Which leads us back to what you can do to protect your children from such unpredictable and unperceivable dangers.
Certainly, there needs to be more state and federal regulations in place requiring air quality detectors—especially for carbon monoxide—in all occupied buildings, but policy-making can be a long, exhausting process. In the meantime, the best protection you can offer your children is to educate them on the facts and to equip them with some form of wearable air monitor capable of immediately identifying threats like carbon monoxide.
Although such technology has, in the past, been bulky, unreliable, and cost-prohibitive, there are several promising devices appropriate for the digital age. The SPARROW wearable air monitor, for instance, measures for carbon monoxide along with temperature and relative humidity. Roughly the size of a garage door opener, this device can be attached to everything from clothing and bicycles to backpacks—the latter being arguably the best location for monitoring your child’s air quality at school.
With SPARROW, in particular, parents can have peace of mind throughout the day as the device communicates all environmental data, including custom alerts, via an accompanying smartphone app.
But technology alone isn’t always enough, and it’s important to discuss air quality with your children—even at a very high level. With younger children, it’s understandably not the easiest conversation in the world, but a crucial one nonetheless. You obviously don’t want to alarm your child by talking about seemingly invisible gases like carbon monoxide, so perhaps simply instructing them to alert an adult any time they feel ill or “funny” is preferable.
You could also touch on air quality by talking about more identifiable threats like natural gas and its distinctive sulfuric or rotten egg smell.
Because children are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of polluted air due to their size, it’s crucial to try and minimize their exposure to these pollutants whenever possible. With proper education, technologies like the SPARROW air monitor, and broader regulations, thousands of children (and adults) can avoid trips to the emergency room every year.