PEI

UPEI air quality study reveals some classrooms not to standard, major upgrades needed on campus

An air quality report which looked at 69 classroom spaces on campus at UPEI shows some classrooms do not meet current ventilation standards.

'Those standards need to be not just met, but exceeded significantly,' faculty association says

'UPEI's top priority is to provide a safe environment for students, faculty and staff,' says Jackie Podger, vice-president administration and finance. (Laura Meader/CBC)

An air quality report which looked at 69 classroom spaces on campus at UPEI shows some classrooms do not meet current ventilation standards.

The school's office of the vice-president sent out an email including the report by MCA Consultants to faculty and staff on Wednesday, Jan. 19. 

The report identified a total of 16 classrooms that have issues — nine have mechanical ventilation systems, which did not meet standards, seven relied on open windows to ventilate in order to meet the standards.

UPEI acknowledges this is not ideal in the winter months. It has ordered portable HEPA filters to be installed. 

The report did say, "The vast majority of classrooms on campus meet current code ventilation requirements." 

Faculty Association says all work spaces need testing

The UPEI Faculty Association is curious about air quality in other work spaces on campus beyond classrooms, and association president Michael Arfken said the entire campus should be evaluated. 

Michael Arfken says the province could be taking a greater role in enforcing workplace health and safety. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"There's probably problems in other places that they haven't tested, in other workspaces," said Arfken. 

He said UPEI has a legislated responsibility to protect all workers on campus. Arfken said his group pushed the university to look into the issue of air quality given the pandemic, and how important it is to reduce the possibility of airborne exposures.

He said he's also concerned about standards being outdated and established prior to the pandemic. 

"Those standards need to be not just met, but exceeded significantly," he said. 

Arfken said it's good to have more information now, but he worries "it's too little too late." He said the report, which was completed in November, should have been made public before now. 

"This has had a significant impact on the health and safety not only of our members, and members of the campus community, more generally," he said. 

Arfken also said the province could be taking a greater role in enforcing workplace health and safety. 

UPEI says safety is a 'top priority'

In an email to CBC News, Jackie Podger, vice-president administration and finance, said "UPEI's top priority is to provide a safe environment for students, faculty and staff."

A number of areas were identified as not meeting the ASHRAE standard, which is defined in the report as 'the quantity of outdoor air in the breathing zone and ventilation zone of the occupied space.' (Laura Meader/CBC)

The email said UPEI would follow a rigorous maintenance program for ventilation systems. The university said it commissioned the study by MCA Consultants so that any "required improvements could be implemented expeditiously

Podger said the report had been reviewed by the Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I.

"Once we complete the consultant's recommendations, we will be meeting or exceeding [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] guidelines as well as meeting the intent of Occupational Health and Safety Regulations regarding ventilation," she said. 

The email and report indicated UPEI will be upgrading filters and bringing in portable HEPA filters into some classrooms.

Long term capital projects are planned for a number of areas to upgrade ventilation systems.

'Significant system upgrades' recommended

A number of areas were identified as not meeting the ASHRAE standard, which is defined in the report as "the quantity of outdoor air in the breathing zone and ventilation zone of the occupied space."

The report identified several spaces that require "significant system upgrades and equipment replacements." 

Those areas include:

  • Lecture theatres in the Atlantic Veterinary College.
  • Parts of the Robertson Library.
  • A music classroom in the Steel Building.
  • Wanda Wyatt Dining Hall.

Arfken said he has heard from people prior to the report coming out that they worried about air quality in some of those spaces.

"Our members have reported respiratory concerns, and we have not seen them adequately addressed," he said.

In the email to staff, UPEI administration said the first two capital projects would be Atlantic Veterinary College and the Robertson Library, with the university looking at design, costing and construction.

Subsequent projects would involve Main and Steel buildings.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.

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