Eat My Dust

With growing concerns about MRSA and other serious or potentially life-threatening diseases, some school administrators may view dust-related issues with less importance. However, dust, most of which is tracked into a school facility from the outside, can cause many more problems — including health-related issues — than some school administrators may realize.

For instance:
•    It is estimated that about 10 percent of all computer failures are the result of indoor dust.
•    Approximately 20 percent of the students in a typical school facility are allergic to some particulates found in dust.
•    Heating and air conditioning systems can lose as much as 20 percent of their efficiency if just a tenth of an inch of dust covers filters or core mechanicals.
•    It is estimated that it can cost as much as $500 to remove one lb. of dust, which increases cleaning and maintenance costs considerably.
•    People working in dusty indoor environments have a greater risk of lung cancer, heart attacks, asthma, respiratory problems, and even depression compared to those who work in cleaner, healthier indoor environments.
•    It is estimated that as much as 24 lbs. of dust can be tracked into a facility by just 1,000 people over the course of a 20-day period.

For these and other reasons, incorporating strategies to help reduce dust accumulation in school facilities is a key concern for all school administrators.

Fortunately, many of these dust-related problems can be corrected through the effective use of matting systems, which have long been overlooked for their full value in keeping dust out and maintaining a clean and healthy environment. In fact, because they are so effective, matting systems are now widely recognized as a key component in a green cleaning system, even contributing to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification points.

High-Performance Matting Systems
Typically, a school facility uses mats to help prevent water and some grit from being tracked into the building — especially in gym areas where moisture can damage wood floors. They are also used for safety reasons, especially during adverse weather conditions. These mats provide a non-stick surface, which helps reduce the likelihood of student falls during rain, snow, or ice.

However, these uses, although valuable, just touch the surface of the benefits that can be derived from a high-performance matting system. These systems usually combine three different types of mats that are placed inside a facility, in interior lobbies as well as outside. Together, the three mats work as a system, each playing a specific role in effectively removing as much as 80 percent of the pollutants from shoe bottoms, which prevents them from soiling a facility.

These systems include at least five ft. of each of the following mats.
•    Scraper Mats: Appropriately named, these mats are designed to scrape the bulk of grit, soil, and contaminants off of shoes. Debris is trapped beneath the surface of the mat. These mats often have a rubber base and polyethylene blades on a rubber base, and are designed with a recessed grating or by-level construction system. Essentially, a deep well which holds dirt and moisture between cleanings exists under the surface of the mat.

•    Absorption Mats: This, the second in the three-part matting system, is also known as a scraper/wiper mat. Located just inside the entry or in the vestibule area if the facility has a double door entry, these mats perform both a scraping action and a moisture-wicking (absorption) action. They are made of nylon, or combinations of nylon and heavily textured piles of polypropylene, and are the “second line of defense,” removing soil, dust, moisture, and grit not captured by the outdoor scraper.

•    Finish Mats: The final component of a high-performance matting system is the finish mat, sometimes called the wiper mat. These mats are designed to remove and capture light soils and dust, and any remaining moisture on shoes. In some facilities, finish mats are the only matting system used. However, if used alone, they are considered only moderately effective in trapping contaminants.

The combination of the three mats may vary somewhat, depending on climate and weather conditions. For instance, a snowy climate may require more matting to be placed outside a facility to help trap larger particulates of dust and grit. During rainy periods, a facility may want to use more absorption and finish mats to help improve moisture removal from shoe bottoms.

It should be noted that a high-performance matting system is composed of higher quality mats that often must be purchased and not rented. In many situations, mats are rented from services that replace them on a regular schedule. However, these rented mats are often of relatively poor quality and have a very short life expectancy. In fact, some are actually designed to have just a 90- to 180-day performance life and then must be disposed of, which adds to overcrowded landfills.

On the other hand, many high-performance matting systems have extended warranties and are designed to last three to as many as six years. This means that one high-performance mat may eliminate the need to install more than 25 conventional (rented) mats. This is a significant cost savings for school administrators and, because as much as 500 million pounds of janitorial equipment — enough to fill 10,000 garbage trucks — are shipped to landfills each year, it is a major step toward sustainability and protecting our environment.

The Green Connection
Along with underestimating their value in keeping contaminants out of a facility, the role high-performance matting systems play in green cleaning also often goes unknown or underappreciated. Very simply, preventing dust, soils, and other impurities from entering a facility reduces the amount of cleaning necessary.

This makes high-performance matting systems an effective system of source control, which results in the need for less cleaning chemicals — green or conventional — and less use of vacuum cleaners and floor care equipment, both of which may harm indoor air quality (IAQ). To be fully effective and a valued partner in a Green cleaning program, high-performance matting must also be cared for. This means they should be vacuumed regularly — in some situations, several times during the course of the day — and cleaned using a carpet extractor as they become soiled. The amount of care and attention required can vary, depending on traffic, use, and climate.

Also, the mats must be inspected regularly for tears, and if rolled for storage, they should be unrolled and flattened out before being placed into service. This helps prevent accidents from occurring. It is also a good idea to have extra mats stored and available should they be needed in an emergency.

Christopher R. Tricozzi is vice president of sales and marketing for Crown Mats and Matting, a leading and one of the oldest manufacturers of matting systems in the United States.