An opinion piece from the Colorado Sun on school air quality safety has recently made a splash. If you haven’t already read the piece, please do:
- COVID is airborne and schools need clean air, not just today but for the long haul (especially in light of news that complete herd immunity from COVID-19 is unlikely in America, according to a story from the New York Times – https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/health/covid-herd-immunity-vaccine.html).
- There are literally billions of dollars for schools to make upgrades to indoor air quality, they should invest now using those funds.
- Avoid gimmicks. Follow the science. Filter and ventilate the air.
- Speak with mechanical experts to determine the best setup for your school. (Click here to use Vaniman’s free Air Changes per Hour calculator tool.)
The overall idea from the Sun piece is that Colorado needs to make the indoor air of its schools much safer. They define clean air as “breathing air without harmful pollutants.” As we’ve pointed out regularly, tiny airborne particles (aerosols) can carry transmittable diseases like COVID-19, and also the flu or the measles. Additionally, ozone, toxic chemicals from automotive exhaust, and smoke from wildfires are all serious health threats, and can cause health problems including asthma and allergies.
But, luckily, the same methods that can clean the air of smoke and pollen can also help in cleaning diseases traveling on aerosols.
The federal funding for schools referenced is from the American Rescue Plan, which allocated $130 billion to K-12 schools across the country. The plan specifically encourages using funding to “improve the indoor air quality in school facilities.”
The CDC recommends pulling in as much outdoor air as possible, improving filtration in ventilation systems, and adding portable HEPA in-room air purifiers as the multi-pronged approach to keeping the air clean.
Now — as the opinion piece calls out — renovating an entire HVAC system is unreasonably expensive, so those much-cheaper portable HEPA filtration units are going to be more important than many realize. But there’s a lot of gimmicks on the market today, so please stick to simple, tested-and-proven HEPA filtration.
The authors of the piece warn: “Stay away from worthless — or even dangerous — add-ons to filtration like bipolar ionization, hydroxyl or ozone generators, and fumigation with disinfectants. Instead, simple building ventilation and portable filtration strategies make air safer not only from airborne diseases, but also from air pollution.”
This is where we need to point out the authority that this statement comes from. The authors of this opinion piece are three well-regarded aerosol scientists from major Denver-area universities. Alex Huffman is an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Denver; Delphine Farmer is an associate professor of chemistry at Colorado State University; and Marina Vance is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. These are all leading researchers who study aerosols and the air we breathe.
As the authors point out: “simple building ventilation and portable filtration strategies make air safer not only from airborne diseases, but also from air pollution…The same, crucial investments in indoor air quality can dramatically improve health for students, teachers, and school staff for the rest of this pandemic and the next generation.”
Please read the opinion piece in the Colorado Sun:
Of course, this opinion piece appeared in the Colorado Sun and they reference Colorado schools, but the message really applies to schools everywhere.
Next steps for schools?
If you want to get the right type of filtration device for your school, you need to get HEPA filtration with:
- CADR to meet the recommended ACH
- Steel encasing (for durability)
- Easy access to replace the filters
- Sound dampening foam to keep it quiet during class (56 dB or less on high speed)
- Prohibit bipolar ionization and other gimmicky bells and whistles
We encourage students, teachers, and the community to engage with district administrators and encourage them to leverage funds to support both the immediate and long-term health of students and staff.