Why Schools Need a Security System for Unhealthy Air

Proper ventilation and filtration have proven to reduce the concentration of airborne infections like COVID-19 while improving student focus.

Why Schools Need a Security System for Unhealthy Air

(Photo: dizain, Adobe Stock)

As schools navigate the 2021-22 school year, they are also trying to keep students healthy and give parents peace of mind amid COVID-19. Schools are scrambling to find the most effective ways to keep students safe. Parents are demanding more rigorous testing to ensure their kids are protected, but school leaders are struggling with how to respond to these demands. Should schools open their doors or close them? It all depends on the level of risk. School leaders across the nation are constructing a secure future by investing in high-quality air filtration and monitoring systems.

Ensuring the highest quality of air indoors can help dramatically reduce COVID risks and has the added perk of improving concentration and mood in students and teachers. This isn’t new information, though. Parents are already taking action. They have started sending pocket air quality monitors to school with their children to find out what’s really in the air. The fact is, lack of fresh air allows bacteria and viruses such as COVID-19 to circulate, and the SARS virus can survive for long periods of time in the floating in the room. The EPA says not only is six feet apart not enough to eliminate infection but also the infected particles can move through an entire indoor space and stay in the air for hours.

There are two main ways to tackle COVID-19 in the air: improve ventilation and improve filtration. ASHRAE’s indoor air quality regulations explain the importance of a pre- and post-flushing strategy to reduce the concentration of airborne infections particles by 95% and Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) to determine if energy wheels are being well maintained.

In addition to filtration, it is vital to bear the humidity of the environment in mind. In dry air, droplets evaporate quickly and remain in the air for longer. Consequently, the virus is far less dangerous in lower humidity areas, and it is necessary to use more resources to monitor and ventilate in higher humidity areas.

High-quality filtration systems and the proper system to monitor for problems is an obvious key to combating poor indoor air quality. Ideally, all school buildings would use HEPA filters or UVC purification. Along with the filters, bipolar ionization (BPI) is becoming increasingly popular, though slightly less proven. It claims to be particularly successful in combating COVID-19 as the ions prevent the host from being infected by destroying the virus’ surface structure on a molecular level.

The most important thing schools can do is follow air quality guidelines from EPA, OSHA, ASHRAE, and others for ventilation, heating, and disinfection. It’s crucial to have comprehensive air quality testing and mitigation programs in place that combine recommendations from all relevant standards. Administrators must be enabled to remain responsive to changing building situations throughout the day.

Thankfully, there is an exciting new development in the world of IAQ. Schools need to take advantage of new sensor technology that can detect air quality problems within minutes, not days. Some sensors are even able to detect the presence of air-borne pathogens like mold spores, bacteria, or fungal spores. It’s like a security system for unhealthy air and it’s affordable enough to be installed in every building on campus. Once a system can monitor for issues, it can help pinpoint them for building staff so they can be fixed and improve everyone’s quality of life.

The benefits of improving air quality don’t stop at reducing COVID. Good indoor air quality helps us focus, and it can help students get better grades – potentially up to a full letter grade, according to Daily Mail. Research also shows the purity of the air we breathe directly impacts mood and mental fatigue. “Some studies show that even brief, temporary air pollution exposure may be linked to an increased risk for mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia, with damage starting as early as childhood,” according to a recent IQAir article.

Making small affordable changes to a school’s existing air system can defend against the spread of the virus and prevent respiratory issues.

John Bohlmann is the founder and CEO of HawkenAQ, a building technology startup working to make every building COVID-safe and carbon neutral.

The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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