60 schools lacking ventilation systems now have HEPA filters to help combat COVID
47 of the schools tested high for carbon dioxide - almost double the number the province reported last fall
The 60 New Brunswick schools without integrated mechanical ventilation systems have a new tool to combat COVID-19 — HEPA, or high-efficiency particulate, filters.
Forty-seven of the schools tested high for carbon dioxide, "but within the safe range," CBC News has learned — almost double the number the Department of Education initially reported last fall. CO2 levels are considered a good indicator of ventilation efficiency.
All New Brunswick public school students returned to in-person learning Monday for the first time since before the holiday break, as part of the province's return to the less restrictive Level 2 of the COVID-19 winter plan.
To help reduce COVID-19 transmission in indoor settings, the Department of Education purchased portable HEPA filtration systems for 2,000 classrooms at a cost of $3 million.
"As of Monday, most HEPA filters have already been installed," said department spokesperson Flavio Nienow.
A report commissioned by the department before Christmas concluded that while there is "no evidence directly proving that HEPA filtration reduces COVID-19 transmission" in the classroom, it can reduce the propagation of airborne COVID particles when properly installed and combined with masking, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said last week.
"Given the rapid spread and transmissibility of Omicron, we know we need to use every single available tool," he said.
Other provinces, such as Ontario, spent millions on HEPA filters for schools before classes started last fall.
11 schools to get ventilation system this year
Eleven of the 60 schools are also expected to have integrated ventilation systems installed in 2022, said Nienow.
They had among the poorest air quality results when CO2 testing was conducted during the winter of 2020-21. In at least one case, the reading was more than double the threshold the department says is considered "optimal" for learning or working environments.
These schools include: Birchmount School, Forest Glen School and Hillsborough Elementary School in the Anglophone East School District; Barnhill Memorial School, Back Bay Elementary School, Inglewood School and Norton Elementary School in the Anglophone South School District; Burton Elementary School, Connaught Street School and Montgomery Street Elementary School in the Anglophone West School District; and École Blanche-Bourgeois in the francophone south district.
The remaining 49 schools will have ventilation systems installed within the next four or five years, unless the schools themselves are replaced first, assistant deputy minister of corporate services Robert Penney has said. The timeline is based in part on the limited availability of trades workers, Cardy said.
Unlike the 234 schools in the province that do have integrated ventilation systems, the 60 schools without have to rely instead on opening doors and windows to circulate air.
The province has previously refused to identify the 60 schools, directing inquiries to the seven individual districts. Last September, only five of the districts responded to a request for information — Anglophone North School District, Anglophone South School District, Anglophone West School District, the francophone north-east district and the francophone north-west district.
On Tuesday, the department released the full list to CBC News. (See below)
In 2020-21, two consulting firms measured C02 levels in a sample of rooms at all 60 schools. The air quality tests were conducted under the conditions "most likely to create a CO2 buildup in schools: during the winter heating season … and with classrooms occupied," Nienow said in an emailed statement.
CO2, an odourless, colourless, non-flammable gas, is commonly created indoors by the respiration of a room's occupants.
"All test results were found to be within the safe range of CO2 levels and did not demonstrate reason for health and safety concerns," Nienow said.
"Results for 47 schools indicated that certain rooms, although safe, did have C02 levels peak above 1,500 ppm [parts per million], which are less than optimal for learning."
In September, the department said 24 schools had these results.
It is not until levels reach 5,000 ppm over an eight-hour period weighted average, or 30,000 ppm over a 15-minute weighted average, that there are risks to occupants' health and safety, department officials have said.
Health Canada recommends a long-term exposure limit of 1,000 ppm, based on a 24-hour average, for residential air quality "based on effects observed in epidemiological studies in schools or offices and controlled exposure studies."
"Studies in humans in school or office settings have found associations between CO2 exposure and mucous membrane or respiratory symptoms, rhinitis, neurophysiological symptoms, a lack of concentration, headaches, dizziness, heavy-headedness, tiredness, and decreased performance on tests or tasks," the agency states.
Children are among the most vulnerable to the health effects of CO2, it says, because of their size.
In office environments, carbon dioxide levels above 1,000 ppm indicate that the ventilation rate is low "and that other airborne contaminants are accumulating," according to Health Canada.
"Schools with the lowest air quality results are being prioritized for the installation of ventilation systems," said Nienow. "This does not include schools that are planned to be replaced in the near future."
The 11 prioritized projects are currently being designed and tendered, he said.
The majority of the work is expected to be conducted during summer months, while the schools are unoccupied, he added.
The highest readings recorded in a room at those 11 schools, according to the results posted on the department's website, were:
- Birchmount School — 2,695 ppm
- Forest Glen School — 2,403 ppm
- Hillsborough Elementary School — 2,580 ppm
- Barnhill Memorial School — 2,580 ppm
- Back Bay Elementary School — 2,055 ppm
- Inglewood School — 2,841 ppm
- Norton Elementary School — 2,806 ppm
- Burton Elementary School — 2,186 ppm
- Connaught Street School — 2,447 ppm
- Montgomery Street Elementary School — 1,781 ppm
- École Blanche-Bourgeois — 3,047 ppm
Does your child's school lack a ventilation system?
The 60 schools without integrated mechanical ventilation systems include:
Anglophone East School District
- Bessborough School
- Beaverbrook School
- Birchmount School
- Dorchester Consolidated School
- Forest Glen School
- Frank L. Bowser School
- Hillcrest School
- Hillsborough Elementary School
- Marshview Middle School
- Mountain View School
- Riverside Consolidated School
- Sunny Brae Middle School
- West Riverview School
Anglophone North School District:
- Harcourt School
- Jacquet River School
- Napan Elementary School
Anglophone South School District:
- Back Bay Elementary School
- Barnhill Memorial School
- Bayview School
- Beaconsfield Middle School
- Centennial School
- Grand Bay Primary School
- Hazen-White-St. Francis School
- Inglewood School
- Lawrence Station Elementary School
- Norton Elementary School
- Prince Charles School
- Princess Elizabeth School
- Sir James Dunn Academy
- St. John the Baptist/King Edward School
- St. Stephen Elementary School
- White Head Elementary School
Anglophone West School District:
- Assiniboine Avenue Elementary School
- Bath Community School
- Bristol Elementary School
- Burton Elementary School
- Chipman Elementary School
- Connaught Street School
- Donald Fraser Memorial School
- Florenceville Elementary School
- Florenceville Middle School
- Forest Hill School
- Gagetown School
- Garden Creek School
- George Street Middle School
- Gesner Street Elementary School
- Harold Peterson Middle School
- Harvey Elementary School
- Keswick Ridge School
- Kingsclear Consolidated
- McAdam Avenue School
- Montgomery Street Elementary School
- Nackawic Senior High School
- Nashwaaksis Memorial School
- Old Arc-en-ciel School
- Upper Miramichi Elementary School
- Ridgeview Middle School
District scolaire francophone Nord-Est:
- Académie Assomption
District scolaire francophone Sud:
- École Blanche-Bourgeois
- École Calixte-F.-Savoie