(Salt Lake City, UT) – With the first major inversion forecast to hit the Wasatch Front this week, parents may be wondering if it’s safe for their children to play outside during school recess. The Utah Departments of Health (UDOH) and Environmental Quality (DEQ) have released updated Recess Guidance for Schools to help principals and school administrators know when to move recess indoors on poor air quality days.
Inversions can be especially hard on children and anyone with certain chronic health conditions like asthma. During the winter, particulate matter (or PM2.5) is the main pollutant of concern as inversions trap cold air and pollution in the valleys. PM2.5 is made up of soot, dust, and vehicle emissions. It’s small enough to get past the body’s natural defense systems and when inhaled, can get deep into the lungs where it becomes trapped, aggravating current health problems.
The Recess Guidance for Schools recommends that on days when the PM2.5 is:
Below 35.4 μg/m3 – All students stay outdoors for recess.
Between 35.5 μg/m3 and 55.4 μg/m3 – Students with respiratory symptoms and “sensitive” students stay indoors for recess. Sensitive students may include those with asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, compromised immune systems, or other respiratory problems.
Above 55.5 μg/m3 – All students stay indoors for recess.
First created in 2004, the Recess Guidance has undergone three major revisions as new research and air quality studies have been completed. Input about how to balance the need for physical activity and keeping children safe from unhealthy air outdoors was sought from school personnel, health scientists, health care professionals, advocacy groups, and parent groups. The guidance aligns with the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) levels and recommendations, and is tailored for the elementary school recess setting.
School administrators are encouraged to check the PM2.5 levels throughout the winter months at least 30 minutes prior to recess. “The Recess Guidance has been critical in helping me know how to help our students stay healthy and safe,” said BJ Weller, principal at Canyon View Elementary.
“The school principal makes the final decision regarding when and where to hold recess. We encourage schools to consider active options for indoor recess should the need arise,” said Brittany Guerra with the UDOH Asthma Program. “Fortunately, data shows there were only a handful of days over the last five years that our guidance recommended all students be kept indoors for recess due to poor air quality.”
Parents, with the advice of their health care provider, should also inform the school if they believe their child is part of a sensitive group and should have limited outdoor physical activity when air quality is poor.
The UDOH also offers daily email alerts during the inversion season to help school administrators know when PM2.5 reaches unhealthful levels and the specific guidance on which students should be kept indoors. To receive the air quality email alerts, send a blank email to email@example.com.
“Using the Recess Guidance has been very helpful in determining whether the air quality is safe for our students to go out and play in. It is so easy to just open the email and have the air quality for our area available without searching and taking a lot of time,” said Trudy Messick, with Renaissance Academy.
To see current PM2.5 levels, download the UtahAir app or visit www.air.utah.gov. Copies of the Air Quality Recess Guidance for Schools and video tutorials about how to use the guidance are available at www.health.utah.gov/asthma.
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UDOH Asthma Program