Carbon Dioxide Monitors for Schools – Room for Improvement

A thought piece from Ralph Izod, Managing Director, Envelo Solutions

With news that ‘Classrooms in England are to be supplied with CO2 monitors when state schools and colleges reopen after the summer holidays, to improve ventilation and combat the spread of Covid,’ the government has responded to staff and the unions for schools to be better ventilated. It is widely acknowledged that Coronavirus transmits in the main via airborne particles. Enclosed classrooms, sports halls and restrooms are the perfect breeding ground for transmission of not just Coronavirus but any virus as pupils move in groups from one room to another.

As part of this initiative schools are to be given CO2 monitors. If the levels rise it’s a sign that fresh air is not circulating and it’s time to improve ventilation and remove the stale air.

But is this enough? And is it a practical initiative, one that can be accomplished by schools with relative ease?

I don’t think it is. There are other factors that should also be considered as well as practical low-cost solutions Envelowavailable that could really improve the health of the classroom environment that are potentially being overlooked.

Firstly, the issue of ventilation. If a school is based in a rural setting with little outdoor pollution including an absence of traffic fumes and noxious substances (Volatile Organic Compounds, Nitrous Oxides and PM2.5s as examples) opening the doors and windows is a breeze. In with the fresh air and out with the virus. But consider this. As many scientific studies in the last 10 years have shown, outdoor contaminations can cause high air pollution inside, entering the building through the windows, doors, and ventilation systems. Schools directly adjacent to busy roads are likely to have poor air quality in most areas if the air circulation system is not good. Opening the windows in these circumstances presents a moral conundrum and can also increase noise pollution.

Not every classroom has windows that can open, or where air can circulate well, and for those with a mixture, pupils will be moving from one well ventilated room to another where the air quality is poor because ventilation is minimal.

Consider too that whilst Coronavirus (amongst many transmissible illnesses) can spread via airborne particles, it also spreads through touch. So, a student with the virus can pass it on just by touching the surfaces they encounter as they move around the school, creating hundreds of virus contaminated touch points. Given the severity of infection is related to the overall viral load a person minimising this risk is important too. No amount of external ventilation is going to stop this. And whilst schools have (like most public organisations) upped the ante on their cleaning regimes, unless surfaces have been coated with an anti-microbial coating that forms an invisible ‘shield’ thereby killing the virus on contact for several weeks – it’s not going to offer any defence after that first virus contaminated touch. Windows can be as wide open as possible, weather permitting, but those untreated surfaces remain a breeding ground for spreading the virus.

Understandably this initiative focuses on reducing the spread of Coronavirus in schools. But this focus must extend to include the sum of the air quality in schools. That’s because the indoor air quality is linked to a child’s ability to learn and retain information at school not to mention their wellness. High CO2 levels in a classroom measurably decrease cognitive function, less than ideal in a learning environment. Sick Building Syndrome, which has been the subject of many studies in schools can cause pupils and teachers to become sick with health problems which invariably link back to particulates – dust, airborne dirt, bacteria, mould, and mildew. Volatile Organic Compounds - gaseous chemicals from building materials, carpets and furniture, ozone from the photo copier and other office equipment – are high on the list of undesirables. Continuous exposure to these conditions can cause a myriad of health problems including flu-like symptoms, nausea, headache, lethargy, and hypersensitivity. In the most extreme cases they can cause cancer and worsen pre-existing asthma.

So, schools can now measure the CO2 in a room but so what? What should they do if the open window policy is neither safe nor practical? And if the readings are high despite the open window policy?

It continues to surprise me that the whole subject of air purification and long-lasting surface protection has not been more prominent. Use both and not only will Covid particles be reduced but almost all viruses, mould, bacteria, and VOCs too. There are now smart, affordable technologies and products on offer that can help schools make their spaces safe, healthy and virus free 24/7.

The long-term benefits for students and staff of improving the health of educational spaces extend far beyond the (hopefully) current short-term issue of Coronavirus.

The debate must be had because C02 monitors alone are not the cure all are striving for. But at least the conversation has started.

From its inception in 2019 Envelo could see the limitations around Health and Safety; that its primary focus was on safety. Productivity was being lost, and people’s wellbeing impacted by poor infection control in many spaces from schools and colleges to businesses and public spaces. We began our life as an organisation with a remit to create, maintain, monitor, and improve healthy, pathogen free spaces - using pioneering online and apps-based technology with process change. We then added in the best suppliers and products in the marketplace to deliver a powerful solution - from invisible coating on surfaces which kills all viruses on contact for months on end, to air purifying.

EnveloOur mission is to ensure that any school, college, university, business, and facility is healthy and virus free. Should there be a virus or sickness outbreak, our measuring and monitoring system will ensure its detection and prompt containment.

There are significant compelling benefits. The facility is more resilient; no need to have self-imposed restrictive processes to reduce risk or virus transmission. Pupils, students, and staff can return with confidence because the space they are returning to is healthy and safe. Visitors and guests can enjoy the space, confident they are being protected, that their wellness matters. Envelo meets the evolving and complex requirements of the health in H&S. Absenteeism from sickness reduces – and not just from virus transmission but from the general improvement in the healthy environment. Inclusivity and wellbeing replace anxiety. The bottom-line benefits too not least with the removal of restrictions added to insurance policies and an often-significant reduction in cleaning costs.

The Envelo team has a wealth of experience working at the highest levels, sleeves rolled up with engineers, operations managers, and management teams– consulting, shaping policy, implementing, and setting standards.

By helping clients manage risk from an environmental and people perspective we keep them moving safely in a spirit of inclusivity. Organisations move from being reactive to positive and initiative-taking, crucially putting their people first. Please contact us to find out how we can help your school, college, or university.