ACT schools to monitor air quality with CO₂ sensors

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back to school written in chalk

The ACT government has ordered 80 carbon dioxide monitors to roll out to about 30 public schools in the coming weeks.

This order will bring the total number of ACT schools with the devices to 65, as the territory’s chief health officer follows other states and health experts in employing air quality measures in the COVID-19 fight.

“In response to the current COVID-19 outbreak and the planned return to on-campus learning, the education directorate is developing an indoor air quality plan to further assess the ventilation status and needs of all public schools, starting with ACT public colleges,” a spokeswoman tells Sarah Lansdown of The Canberra Times. “This plan will identify short and longer-term steps to monitor and manage fresh air coming into buildings and will include consideration of technological solutions to improve air quality.”

Monitoring CO₂ levels is a great indicator of how fast air is being ventilated, revealing the relative concentration of bodily-related emissions. Indoor air should be below 800 parts per million (ppm). Outdoor air is typically between 400 and 415ppm.

Ventilation is particularly important for limiting airborne COVID-19 spread in schools, where children younger than 12 are currently unvaccinated.

Opening windows is a quick, simple and free step in cycling air faster, especially in naturally ventilated buildings, like most schools. CO₂ monitors are an affordable and effective next step in an air quality improvement strategy.

Adding mechanical ventilation, for those who can afford it, is a long-term investment, but essential in buildings without openable windows.

Air purifiers are another effective option, and are being rolled out to Victorian schools.

“Air purifiers are important tools for keeping indoor air particulate matter levels low, if the building’s natural or mechanical ventilation system cannot achieve [effective ventilation],” says the Queensland University of Technology’s Distinguished Professor Lidia Morawska. “They work by drawing air through a filter and in the process filtering the particles that are present in the air. These could be virus-laden particles from human respiratory activities – breathing, talking or coughing – and if they are removed from indoor air, the risk of infection decreases.

“It is strongly recommended that schools that do not have ventilation systems capable of keeping indoor particles down be equipped with air purifiers,” Morawska adds.

On 20 September, Morawska and OzSAGE, an independent group of experts advising governments and institutions on their recovery roadmaps, urged the NSW Department of Education to include a comprehensive plan for safe indoor air quality – including air purifiers – as part of its school reopening strategy.

On 22 September, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced 51,000 Samsung air purifiers would be rolled out to Victorian schools. Other measures included in the announcement were grants for creating outdoor learning spaces and the establishment of a Ventilation Technical Advisory Panel to undertake further risk assessments of similar environments, such as early childhood settings and youth justice facilities.

So far ACT is not following Victoria in providing air purifiers to schools, reports The Canberra Times.

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

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