Cleaning classroom air

In a bid to keep schools open during the ongoing pandemic, and after campaigning from school unions, the Department for Education is supplying schools with CO2 monitors in an effort to improve ventilation and combat the spread of Covid

With research showing that the Covid virus mainly transmits via airborne particles, enclosed spaces likely schools can become breeding grounds for infection. In a bid to keep schools open during the ongoing pandemic, and after campaigning from schools unions, the Department for Education is supplying schools with CO2 monitors in an effort to improve ventilation and combat the spread of Covid.
CO2 is released when we breathe out, so higher levels of CO2 means there is higher occupancy and lower ventilation, and can be an important red flag to identify areas of inadequate ventilation.
The DfE said at the time that the monitors “will enable staff to act quickly where ventilation is poor and provide reassurance that existing ventilation measures are working”.
While the announcement of the monitors have been perceived as a step in the right direction, there have been calls for the government to fund solutions to improving air quality, such as effective ventilation and air purification. At the moment, the guidance is to open windows, but of course during the colder months, this is not advisable.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Our understanding is that carbon dioxide monitors will indicate when spaces need ventilating thereby reducing the need to keep windows open all the time.
“This is an important and reassuring step in the right direction. Now we reiterate our call for the government to ensure that high-quality ventilation equipment is made available to schools and colleges where it is needed as soon as possible.”

Air purification

Schools are increasingly looking at air purification in addition to ventilation to create good indoor air quality (IAQ). Air purifiers can remove harmful particles, pollen and other allergens that can cause harm. The Department for Education is currently running a trial of air purifiers in 30 schools in Bradford, to assess whether they can reduce the risk of transmission.
With the first results from the trial due before the end of the year, it could pave the way for a rollout of the technology in schools across the country in 2022.
The research is being conducted by the Centre for Applied Education Research – a collaboration involving the universities of Leeds, Bradford and York, Bradford Council and the Department for Education.
Thirty primaries are involved in the randomised trial, with a third equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, a third with UV purifiers and the final ‘control’ group continuing without any special equipment.
In the schools with devices, the kit will be placed in any room that staff or children are spending substantial time in.

It is hoped the air purifiers and UV lights will also help reduce absence due to cold and flu infections, and improve the air quality for those with asthma and hay fever.

Indoor air quality

While recent headlines about indoor air quality are focused on Covid-19 transmission, the harmful effects of poor indoor air quality is widely acknowledged, as is the issue that poor air quality has on children.
Children are more susceptible to harmful air pollution as their lungs are still growing and developing. They also breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants. For children with asthma, high levels of air pollution are linked to increased asthma attacks.

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, commissioned The Royal Academy of Engineering to review how we design, manage, and operate buildings and how we can make infrastructure more resilient to infection. The initial report, ‘Infection Resilient Environments: Buildings that keep us healthy and safe’, highlights the importance of good IAQ for reducing transmission of Covid and other infectious diseases.

The report calls for clear, consistent communication and advice on ventilation from government and professional bodies to help building owners and operators to manage infection risks. Clearly identifiable measures that can be implemented at moderate cost will help to ensure that adequate ventilation is prioritised alongside more visible measures such as surface cleaning and distancing.

Outdoor air pollution

Research from City Hall has revealed that more than 3.1 million children in England are situated in schools in areas with toxic levels of air pollution. The research found that children in London are four times as likely to go to a school where air pollution exceeds WHO limits compared to the rest of England – but still a quarter of schools in the rest of England are exposed to similarly high levels.

There are some measures that schools can put in place to improve the air quality around their schools, such as creating no car zones, anti idling campaign and promoting active travel. But to stop the outdoor air pollution from coming into a school, air purifiers can help.
Christopher Hatton Primary School and Netley Primary School & Centre for Autism have participated in real world trials with Blueair following the Mayor of London’s School Air Quality Audit Programme. More than three years on they continue to use air purifiers, owing a reduction in absenteeism and sick leave to the units.
Alan Murphy, Air Quality Leader at Netley commented: “Our teachers are clearly appreciating the importance of clean air and the role the Blueair units play in helping to achieve it. Polluted air is shown to adversely impact on health and wellbeing, especially for children. It is a major focus for Netley due to HS2 construction and the congested roads around our school. Monitoring has shown very high levels of air pollution inside many classrooms at Netley. The air purifiers installed have dramatically improved the air quality internally.”