Story at a glance

  • When a gas leak prompted the installation of air purifiers in some southern California classrooms, researchers saw an opportunity to study the impacts of cleaner air on academic performance.
  • A preliminary analysis appears to show improved test scores on math and English tests in the classrooms with the air purifiers.
  • While not everyone is convinced that the paper’s statistical analysis is sound, it adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that environmental hazards and other factors outside the classroom can influence a student’s ability to learn and succeed in school.

Air purifiers were installed in classrooms at a southern California school after a gas leak, but the cleaner air had an unanticipated benefit: better test scores. Preliminary research found that students in the classrooms with the purified air got higher scores on math and English tests than students taking tests in classrooms without purifiers, the Guardian reports

Not everyone agrees on the significance of the study’s results and whether the gains in academic performance are large enough to justify the cost of installing air purifiers, which run roughly $1,000 per classroom. 

Vox reported that while the effect isn’t huge, it’s such a simple intervention that schools — especially those in areas with poor air quality — should consider cleaning their classrooms’ air. But a deep dive into the statistics behind the study by Mother Jones yielded skepticism about whether kids in the classrooms with air purifiers really did that much better than those without them. 

But there is nothing controversial about the idea that air pollution is bad for one’s health. Past research shows that living close to a refinery, factory or highway is associated with higher rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes and impaired lung function that can drag down overall health or culminate in chronic illness. 

The burden of ill health associated with living in polluted areas is disproportionately borne by people of color and those living in poor neighborhoods

Even if the findings of this particular study don’t hold up to scrutiny, it underscores the necessity of considering good health and other factors outside the classroom when attempting to improve academic performance.

Published on Jan 14, 2020