Friday, October 20, 2023

Improving Air Quality for Children Act

Our children are mandated to be in school. It should also be mandated that the building have clean air for children to breathe!

Chandra Pasma, MPP for Ottawa-West and Nepean, David Fisman, UofT epidemiology professor, Joey Fox, engineer, and Heather Hanwell and Mary Jo Nabuurs from Ontario School Safety (OSS), introduced a provincial private member's bill requiring air monitors in all classrooms and congregate spaces in schools and requiring experts to convene to establish an air quality threshold plan and guaranteeing action will be taken to improve and maintain air quality above ASHRAE standards. 

Here's the video in full, just 21 minutes, and there's a two minute part near the beginning that's a French repetition of Pasma's intro. (It's also on Facebook).

Loosely summarized, we have no idea of current air quality in classroom because no monitors are in place. In Québec, by contrast, all classrooms have air quality monitors which provide publicly accessible reports. This happens in Boston, France, the Netherlands... So why not have the same for Ontario kids? In the long run, it will save the province tons of money as ongoing illness costs us in many ways. They're also urging harmonized building codes across Canada to adopt ASHRAE standards. It's not absurd to expect clean air! There are tons of benefits (academics, healthcare...) and no downsides. 

One lone reporter lobbed some pretty friendly questions, although he said "during Covid" as if it ended and referred to Hanwell and Nabuurs as the ladies from OSS instead of representatives. Here's the gist of the answers much editorialized!

HVAC systems aren't enough of their own, and not every classroom has mechanical ventilation. Ventilation (bringing in fresh air to change with stale air in the room) is number one, and we need to monitor that we're at appropriate levels. We can't ventilate properly without monitoring if it's working! HEPAs were deployed in some classrooms, where they're often not used correctly or at all because they're so noisy. No education was delivered to classroom teachers about them, and most schools still don't allow the much quieter and cheaper Corsi-Rosenthal boxes. But filtration units aren't a replacement for ensuring good ventilation; they should be in addition to it. 

CO2 monitors are used as a proxy for particulate matter, since the more CO2 is in a room, the more pollutants and viruses will be in there too. [They stated that the ASHRAE lower limit standards are set at 1000 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the air, but I would hope for 700 ppm. When I was a trustee last year, the school board rooms never hit higher than 550 on my own monitor, and my former classroom was regularly over 1200 ppm.]  ETA: The actual bill sets the limit at 600 ppm.

Based on what happened when this was implemented in Québec, 33% of classrooms exceeded levels, and it cost the government $450 million for the monitors and all the necessary upgrades. 

From a trustee perspective, this is a drop in the bucket. The budget costs for major items are regularly in the billions

It's rare for a private members bill to pass, and if they can't get it through, OSS is involved in many grassroots efforts, collaborating with the Canadian Aerosol Transmission Coalition and Safe Air Safe Schools, and they're also preparing for a legal option. They prefer to work with the government, but so far have been met with silence or rote responses.  

Here's hoping something shifts!!!

Aside: We need more people, like David, Heather, and MJ, who keep their masks ON when they talk! It's not only easier to ignore the mask and just step up to speak, but it models the ability to talk and be heard with a mask. Of the few people in my classroom that I've convinced to wear a mask, all of them take it off to talk, the very time that they're transmitting with greater force across the room!

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