Hard to breathe: Report finds most NYC public schools with worst ventilation woes are in areas lacking green technology

School visits
Mayor Eric Adams visits Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx with Schools Chancellor David Banks and local elected leaders as they greet students and parents who are returning from holiday break on Monday, January 3, 2022. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Analysis of recent data collected by New York City school ventilation audits found that 70% of public schools with the worst air issues are in areas lacking green technology.

Moreover, the study found that 52% of these schools are located in Brooklyn.

A report released on June 1 by ALIGN, an environmental organization, established a blueprint for New York City Mayor Eric Adams to create Green, Healthy Schools by prioritizing the needs of these schools — namely, providing effective ventilation and quality air monitoring to minimize the spread and transmission of COVID-19.

Public schools are also among the largest polluters in the city, with many buildings heavily relying on fossil fuels for everyday needs like heating and cooling. ALIGN’s report reveals that the city is over 80% behind on its solar installation targets, with only 1 of 67 solar priority schools completed. 

“NYC’s youth spend 180 days a year in school, where their health and safety must be our priority. But as COVID case numbers rise once again, their health remains at risk in overpopulated, poorly ventilated classrooms,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN, a leader of the Climate Works for All coalition. “Public schools are among the city’s dirtiest buildings, but they can be our greatest solutions. Our Green, Healthy Schools blueprint will ensure that the City prioritizes health and climate equity while creating hundreds of career jobs for communities most impacted by the climate crisis. Now, the onus is on the city to make it happen, and there’s no time to wait.”

Researchers from ALIGN estimate that installing solar and HVAC systems in every public school would cost the city $1.8 billion annually through 2030, but would save at least 50% in energy savings and create about 63,000 direct jobs per year.

“From Brownsville to the East Bronx, every New York City community should be home to a healthy, state-of-the-art public school,” said Dave Hancock, Interim Executive Director, Climate Jobs NY. “We know that public schools are major polluters and that antiquated school buildings with inefficient air conditioning and heating systems, deteriorating rooftops, and outdated electrical systems are all too common, especially in communities of color. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have billions of federal dollars available right now that our city can invest in repairing and retrofitting school buildings to create healthier classrooms for students and educators, slash carbon emissions and pollution, create good union jobs, and save our city millions of dollars in energy costs. Healthy school buildings mean healthy kids, educators, and communities.” 

With their blueprint Green, Healthy Schools offers Mayor Adams a plan to help NYC transition to a zero-emission future in education, while also addressing the needs of pandemic recovery. Solar power systems will reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels, while systemic changes to retrofits will make school buildings cleaner and more energy efficient.

Elected officials chimed in to voice concerns about high-polluting schools and the wellbeing of children.

“We cannot allow our public schools to continue to be big polluters in New York City,” said Councilmember Lincoln Restler (District 33). “The Green, Healthy Schools Campaign will get us on track to make our schools part of the strategy to combat the climate crisis and protect our kids today and our planet for future generations.”

Mayor Adams’ office is currently reviewing the report while amNewYork Metro awaits comment.