Clean Air for Education
A breath of fresh air makes a difference for every student.
Air quality improves academic performance and outcomes.
Project N95 imagines a future with healthy air for classrooms.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of indoor air quality into sharp focus for the general public. Because SARS-Cov-2 is transmitted by airborne particles, the virus is concentrated in spaces with inadequate ventilation and filtration, especially schools.
Poor air quality also harms our ability to think and learn. Numerous studies have demonstrated that test scores and cognitive function decline in areas with contaminated air and improve when the air is clean. We want to make this a reality for everyone.
Our new Clean Air for All initiative broadens Project N95’s mission to provide equitable access to respiratory protection. We believe that everyone deserves access to the information and resources they need to keep themselves and their communities safe, healthy, and thriving.
Have a Think About Clean Air
A growing body of evidence demonstrates that poor air quality affects cognition. Air pollution has been linked to a variety of adverse outcomes, including decreased attention, impaired memory, and reduced decision-making abilities.1,2,3
Particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) is a type of air pollution that comes from both indoor and outdoor sources, such as dust, smoke, and cleaning products. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is another compound that becomes dangerous in concentrated doses.
In cities with high levels of outdoor pollution, indoor levels can also exceed safe limits. In fact, indoor air is often more contaminated than outdoor air4 because particulate matter can build up in spaces with poor ventilation and filtration. Schools are particularly vulnerable because an unhealthy learning environment leads not only to negative academic outcomes, but also negative long-term socioeconomic outcomes.
Why Clean Air?
Unfair systems and policies lead to unfair outcomes.
Discrimination means that Black, Latino, and low-income children are the most likely to be impacted by factors that diminish air quality.
Poor air quality leads to serious health problems.
Respiratory illness—asthma, bronchitis, lung disease—as well as heart attacks and even premature death are associated with unhealthy air.
Imagine a Future with Clean Air for Everyone
A breath of fresh air makes all the difference for our well-being, learning, and quality of life—learn more about our clean air initiative today.
How Air Quality Impacts Learning and Cognitive Function
A longitudinal study from Harvard University found that exposure to common pollutants like PM2.5 and CO2 had a significant impact on people's ability to pay attention and process information. It specifically showed that exposure to even low levels of indoor air pollution adversely affected 300 office workers in six different countries.5
Other studies have also looked at the effects of air pollution on children and older adults. The effects were generally greater in children than adults, suggesting that the young are more vulnerable because their cognitive functions are still developing.
A Chinese study in particular found significant associations between exposure to traffic-related air pollution and low performance by students on neurobehavioral tests that measure children’s psychomotor, motor, and sensory functions.6 The exact mechanisms behind this are still not fully understood, but the correlation between poor air quality and poor learning outcomes is well established.4
The Scope of the Problem
Schools in communities of color and poor neighborhoods have high exposure to air pollution from transportation and industrial infrastructure. In large part because of America's history of segregation and unfair housing practices, unfavorable effects tend to be concentrated in these areas. The long-term outcomes of these policies remain embedded in society long after the policies themselves are changed, meaning that additional policies are needed to mitigate the damage.
Furthermore, the scale of the problem goes well beyond individual neighborhoods. While it's intuitive to understand that direct exposure to bad air is undesirable, an MIT study found that air pollution may harm people in settings where they might not think it makes a difference.1
"You can live miles away and be affected," according to Juan Palacios, the lead investigator.
The researchers, who focused on the performance of chess players, concluded that the findings have "strong implications for high-skilled office workers," who may also be faced with tricky cognitive tasks in conditions of variable air pollution even at significant distances from the source of harmful pollutants.
How to Improve Air Quality
The implications for policy makers are fairly straightforward. If poor air quality leads to declines in cognitive performance, good air quality should have the opposite effect.
While more can surely be done, the general trends are positive. In the United States, average exposure to harmful airborne particulates has decreased by almost a third in the last two decades.7 Environmental regulations, the decrease of coal emissions, and other measures are helping improve air quality across the board, which is good for everybody.
The evidence for small-scale change is also encouraging. One Texas school district that undertook efforts to remediate mold and improve indoor air quality in its classrooms saw a substantial improvement in student test scores.8 Another study that controlled for the effect of portable air filters found large test score gains for students with cleaner air in their classrooms.9
Similarly, a study of office workers2 that controlled for air quality with low-pollution (Green) and high-pollution (Conventional) days concluded that "cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on the two Green+ building days than on the Conventional building day."
Better air, even in small spaces, has the potential to improve performance across ages and situations.
Introducing Clean Air for All
Project N95 wants to be a part of the solution. You can help.
Although no one person or organization can fully address the harms that air pollution brings to vulnerable communities, we can start to improve indoor air quality together. We will make a difference through education, awareness, empowerment, and donations of portable air cleaners to congregant settings.
Portable air purifiers can reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission, decrease the incidence of chronic health conditions, and help improve learning environments.
If you represent a school or organization that serves a disadvantaged community, you may be a candidate for our free air purifier donation pilot program.