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24 schools have high carbon dioxide levels, but are safe, says education ministry

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Some of New Brunswick’s schools that do not have adequate ventilation systems have undergone high carbon dioxide tests, CBC News learned less than a week before students and teachers resumed in-person lessons.

Of the 60 schools without a built-in mechanical ventilation system, air quality results for 24 of them revealed that “some rooms, while safe, had carbon dioxide (CO2) levels greater than 1. 500 parts per million (ppm), which is less than optimal for learning. Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Elliott said.

She didn’t say how high the readings were, but said it wasn’t until the levels hit 5,000 ppm on an eight-hour weighted average, or 30,000 ppm on a 15-minute weighted average. ‘there are risks to the health and safety of occupants. .

Health Canada recommends an exposure limit of 1000 ppm.

“Studies in humans in school or office settings have found associations between CO2 exposure and mucosal or respiratory symptoms, rhinitis, neurophysiological symptoms, lack of concentration, headaches, dizziness , dizziness, fatigue and reduced performance on tests or tasks, “says the agency.

Children are among the most vulnerable to the health effects of odorless, colorless and non-flammable gas commonly created indoors by the breathing of occupants of a room, he says.

Because of their height, children inhale more air relative to their body weight than adults. Children may also be more sensitive than adults to the health effects of air contaminants because of differences in their ability to metabolize, detoxify, and excrete contaminants, and because they grow and develop rapidly.

In accordance with WorkSafeNB guidelines, the cause of any reading above 1,500 ppm is worth investigating, Elliott said.

School districts that oversee the schools in question are now taking steps to reduce CO2 levels on a case-by-case basis to best meet the specific configuration of spaces within schools, according to Elliott.

List of schools not made public

She refused to make the list of schools with high CO2 levels or the list of schools with inadequate ventilation systems available to the public, directing the surveys to individual districts.

“As school districts are responsible for managing their facilities, they would have the most recent information, including the lists,” she said in an emailed statement.

Not all districts could be immediately reached for comment.

But the Francophone Northwestern District said its 18 schools have built-in ventilation systems.

Earlier this week, the department said air quality tests carried out at the 60 schools over the past few months were “within the safe range and did not show any reason for health concerns.”

Mitigation options limited by COVID concerns

On Wednesday, Elliott said that mitigating C02 is often “as simple as making sure there are more opportunities for air circulation,” such as installing fans or having students move more freely around the school throughout the day.

She noted, however, that the 2021-2022 back-to-school plan prevents them, due to concerns about the spread of air particles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students and teachers are expected to return to school on September 7. (Sofia Rodriguez / CBC)

Schools can open windows to circulate air.

The department will closely monitor the actions districts take over the next few months to ensure that schools are “not only healthy and safe, but optimal for learning and working,” Elliott said.

Follow-up tests are unclear

When asked if the province would conduct air quality monitoring tests, she did not respond.

She also did not say whether the initial tests were done during the summer months, when the classrooms were empty, or also when the classrooms were full of students and their teachers – only that the results “followed peak periods of stagnation in the classroom during the day.”

When asked if all classrooms in the 60 schools have windows, if all open to allow air circulation, and how parents’ concerns about opening windows in the dead of winter will be handled Elliott again posed more questions to the districts, saying they are “in a better position” to answer them.

Other jurisdictions

Quebec is installing CO2 detectors in classrooms to monitor the quality of the air that students breathe and to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

High levels of CO2 can help identify areas where there may be poor ventilation. Providing proper ventilation and filtration are the most effective measures to reduce the risk of airborne transmission, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). This organization provides guidance and sets standards that many institutions, such as schools, follow to ensure safe ventilation systems.

In Ontario, the province recently announced that it would invest a $ 25 million more buy thousands of high efficiency particulate filters (HEPA) for schools before day one.

All classrooms, gymnasiums, libraries and other spaces without mechanical ventilation shall have stand-alone filter units, including kindergarten classrooms.

The additional funding brings the provincial government alone to $ 600 million to improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in schools.

Installation of ventilation systems in some of New Brunswick’s 60 schools is expected to begin in 2022, the ministry said.

Officials work with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to develop project requirements and the budget for each school, based on a priority list.

“Due to the considerable work required, this will be a multi-year program,” said spokesperson Flavio Nienow.

The ministry began the review earlier this year, based on the recommendation of a working group made up of representatives from public health, WorkSafeNB, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Education.


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