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Close to 40 N.B. schools show peak levels of carbon dioxide: department

Thirty-seven New Brunswick schools have tested for peak levels of CO2. Global News

New Brunswick’s Department of Education says 37 schools displayed peak levels of carbon dioxide in testing conducted last year.

“All test results throughout the years were found to be within the safe range of CO2 levels and did not demonstrate health and safety concerns,” Morgan Bell said in a statement by email from the Education Department.

The schools tested for levels of CO2 above 1,500 parts per million.

One expert said that level could be harmful to those working and learning in classrooms where there is no proper mechanical ventilation. About 64 schools were identified as having no ventilation system, many because of the age of the facility.

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“It’s related to metabolic activity, so, the threshold for an elementary school classroom would be about 900 parts per million, just for basic outdoor air ventilation,” said David Elfstrom, an engineer with specialized knowledge in ventilation.

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He said if the readings are higher than that, it really means more contaminants are building up as well because there is little to no clean air circulating through the rooms.

“It’s not carbon dioxides that’s specifically the issue,” he said in an interview. “It’s the fact that it’s one of the contaminants that we can easily measure and it reflects what other contaminants are building up in space.”

Carbon dioxide is released into the air when humans breathe out. It’s colourless and non-flammable.

For Elfstrom, given the pandemic, the issue should be dealt with urgently. He said proper ventilation is critical to the health and safety of those working in classrooms across New Brunswick. He said students and staff should have equitable access to clean air.

“So, it shouldn’t be luck of the draw as to what your classroom has for academic performance and for equity between classrooms within the same building between schools within the same jurisdiction,” he said.

Eleven schools will get new ventilation systems in 2023. All of them were identified as schools with high levels of carbon dioxide:

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  •         Birchmount School
  •         Marshview Middle School
  •         Keswick Ridge School
  •         Dorchester Consolidated School
  •         Frank L. Bowser School
  •         Harold Peterson Middle School
  •         Nackawic Senior High School
  •         Sir James Dunn Academy
  •         Black’s Harbour
  •         St. George Elementary
  •         Donald Fraser Memorial School

“Schools without an integrated mechanical ventilation system will continue to use portable HEPA filtration systems until a system is installed,” Bell said.

In 2021, the department rolled out 2,000 HEPA filters to slow the spread of COVID-19 within the school system.

She said schools with ventilation systems won’t be tested for CO2 levels, but could be as the government looks at other phases of the testing program.

The department said the list for 2023 could change based on any unforeseen circumstances in the design process.

“The testing results from this year will determine which schools will be targeted for 2024,” Bell said.

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