Barb Wilkie's EHN Website
Last updated 2008

EHN Board President Barb Wilkie was very ill from chemically-induced kidney disease for several years. She passed away May 31, 2011. EHN presents this site both as a tribute and as valuable information. Many links and references will be out of date but Barb's research holds up over time. We will be transferring the site page by page, with updated details, to EHN's main site. If you would like to reach an EHN staff person, please contact us directly.


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Suggestions for IAQ in Schools


Dear Teachers, Administrators, Folks:

Those of us with cooperative school districts and employers are so fortunate. I have had severe chemical sensitivity for over a decade and am functioning well as an engineer. It takes a great deal of energy and cooperation from your family, employer, etc. to successfully deal with this dis-ease. If you have support being shown by your school district (or employer), it is wonderful and can be an example to other school districts/employers.

I was able to help specify products for my companies's new headquarters building two years ago and my health is greatly improved.

I have several suggestions:

The State of Washington has a great deal of resources on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), inlcuding a detailed manual. You can doenload your own copy from look under Primary and Secondary Schools.

Additionally --

1. Read and print out the "Guidelines for IAQ in schools" developed by the Texas Department of Health. These guidelines were developed to address situations just like yours. You can find them as well as additional information on school Indoor Air Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) at the American Environmental Health Foudnation (AEHF) site The state of Texas has also developed Architectural Guidelines as has the State of Washington. The Maryland Department of Education has also develped a tremendous amount of information on IAQ in schools (Ph: 410 767-0098). See all the additional information links in the IAQ in Schools section, including the EPA's "Tools for Schools" program at: (A management plan -- excellent when combined with "best practices" or guidelines from Washington, Texas and Maryland).

2. Work hard to eliminate the carpet in your classroom! It will offgass and later be a sink for molds, dirt, cleaning products, etc. In designing my companies' office building, I was not successful in eliminating all the carpet, but I did get my own office built with ceramic tile only (dry concrete without platicizers for mortar is very important). We also emphasized vinly tile (plain vinly comes in several attractive colors - use non-toxic adhesive (see AEHF site), and do not use the shiny vinly or "no wax". The tile can be cleaned with water and non-toxic cleaners.

3. Make sure the air handling units meet the ASHRAE 62.89 code with 15 cubic feet/min ventilation continuously while the building is occupied (a flush period of up to 2 hours before school is also a good idea). Make sure that the humidity is controlled to 60% R.H. year round (this can be esily accomplished with a separate dehumidifier on the intake air -- that way the A/C unit does not have a sizing problem).

4. If possible get at least your classroom painted with least toxic paint (water soluble - no VOCs) -- Glidden 2000, and AFM paints come closest. I'm not too concerned about the steel that was painted. Most will off-gas before the building is complete and the rest will be covered or sealed. You have to do the best you can and not worry about the rest. Ventilation and an initial round of ozonation will help. The fireproof insulation may have pesticide in it that could cause a problem. Since the fireproofing must be there if it is isolated that is the best you can do. Return air should be ducted and NOT flow over the attic space, insulation, etc.

5. Once the building is completed, make sure your area (and preferably the entire school) is well ventilated (100% make-up air) for the first 90 -days. See Washington State guidelines.

6. I have successfully used ozone treatment to knock down the level of pollutants. You can all the AEHF for the protocol for using Ozone (1-800 428-2343). It is IMPERATIVE that ozone ONLY be used when nothing that you want to live is present (students, staff, teachers, plants, pets, etc.). Ozone can be used to oxidize the pollutants but MUST be followed by a period of 100% make-up air ventilation for several hours (or days) prior to reoccupancy. DO NOT use ozone when people are present (Ozone is a lung irritant). To improve the carpet problem in my office we ozonated and put a sealer on the carpet (AFM - see AEHF web site). The carpet sealant is a 2nd choice - only if you cannot get the district to go with the no-carpet approach. NO carpet is definetly more expensive than vinyl tile over the life of the flooring.

7. Help influence furniture and shelving selections that minimize formaldehyde (NO pressboard!). Use sealants on outgassing furniture where feasible (see sealants, etc. at AEHF). You can also get least toxic stains, sealers, etc., etc. The list of products you gave is too>extensive to provide an answer for each (some specific comments are provided below) - there are least toxic alternatives for most of them - call the AEHF and look at the web site. For the acoustical ceiling tile, you may be able to get a drywall ceiling installed (at least in your room) -- use dry mastic (no plasticizers) -- it takes longer, but with your great persuasiveness, you can talk the contractor into it. It also helps if the construction crew knows why they are doing this differently. If the drywall is sealed and the painted with least toxic sealers and paint, you'll have about the best you can reasonably achieve. The ultimate answer according to some physicians is enamel coating steel or class for walls and ceilings. My feeling on this is it may be appropriat for a "safe" bedroom, but is not practical in public building. You should be prepared to stay away from the building for the first 1-3 months to let it outgass before you work there (an ideal time to be getting all the medical work done!). This may be difficult unless you can go on disability for a few months. This is where having a good environmental physician and the support of the Washington State Department of Health will be very helpful.

8. Once the building is completed one of your biggest tasks will be getting least toxic cleaning products used and eliminating fragranced personal care products (perfume being a big offender). Other schools have done this - see the School IAQ info at Also the City of Santa Monica has been a forerunner in the selection of least toxic cleaning products. You also need to look at the pesticides - use of Integrated Pest Management (see Santa Monica protocol among others).

9. Once your school building is completed and you have a successful outcome, please send me a write-up of what you did and how you did it. I will post this success story so others can benefit from you experience.

10. SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION NOW! Once the chemical sensitivity reaches the point that you are wearing a canister type mask (as I did several years ago), and you cannot sleep inside (I was lucky and was able to make modifications to our home so that I could stay inside), you need serious medical intervention to recover. The technical papers listed under the education section at will be helpful. You may be particularly interested in the article on various treatment options, inlcuding the use of heat depuration (sauna). Also check out the links. One you may be particularly interested in is the American Academy of Environmental Medicine ( The AAEM has a list of environmental physicians that deal with such cases listed by state. Please be aware that while your exposure at school could have been the trigger to get you so chemically sensitive, cleaning up the school is NOT the only thing you will need to do to bring your health to an optimal (or even fully functional level). Obviously improving the school environment is a necessary component in reagaining your health, but it is NOT sufficient.

With the cooperation and flexibility your school is providing, you should be able to make your classroom safe. Remember:

       A Eliminate (offending incitants - like carpeting, press board, products containing VOCs, etc.)


       B. Isolate (seal off offending substances that cannot be eliminated)


       C. Ventilate & control humidity (this dilutes any noxious fumes, and minimizes outgassing of formaldehyde as well as minimizes the growth of molds)


I have found school districts respond best to a positive, cheerful and cooperative approach, especially if you can show them what is needed and back that up with appropriate government guidelines (Washington State, Texas, Maryland, EPA, etc.). Also getting better is MUCH easier if you see the humor in your situation ("What is going to fall apart next?") and keep a cheerful and positive attitude.

I have found that most school districts are truly interested in doing what is right and best for their students and staff, but they are constrained by economic realities as well. One of the wonderful things is that several of the things that need to be done are required suggested by your state department of health or the EPA.

In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be helpful and supportive in helping you gain reasonable accomodations. It sounds like your district is being very helpful and reasonable. If it comes down to an issue of money, volunteering to pay 1/2 the additional cost (if possible or fund raising) to make sure your room is as enviromentally safe as possible may go a long way to getting the utmost cooperation.

We paid the total bill for cleaning up our son's 3rd grade classroom-- [cleaning the ducts, carpet (with a carboinated water process without chemicals), installing filters and a room size (portable) air filtration (HEPA filter + carbon). The school did their part by changing cleaning products, running the ventilation continuously and the teacher volunteered not to wear perfume. A solid floor (vinyl) and least toxic cleaning products should save the district money if the solid flooring is put down to start with.

Wishing you all the best as you continue your own exciting and challenging adventure down the road of chemical sensitivity! While it is frustrating, there are benefits - a greater sensitivity to your environment, learning more and more about how the environment effects yoru health, and the ability to help others avoid taking this path!

I've enjoyed preparing this response. I trust it will be helpful to you and others dealing with new construction in schools and businesses.


Mark Cree Jackson, MSE, MBA
IAQ Advocate
Webmaster: American Environmental Health Foundation (



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The Environmental Health Network (EHN) [of California] is a 501 (c) (3) non profit agency and offers support and information for the chemically injured. Learn from the work of Julia Kendall, get The BEST of the Reactor, join EHN and receive The New Reactor. See what influence the Chemical Manufacturers have had against those of us with EI. The URL for EHN's homepage is