Air Quality at U-32

This article was written by Journalism student, Isabel Moustakas.

 

High school English teacher, Erin Mooney, has noticed a lack of ventilation and air circulation in her classroom. She was given a C02 monitor in her classroom that tracks the amount of C02 in the air throughout the day. 

 

The monitor tracks the air quality by displaying yellow, green, or even red colors. “It has a little graphic interface on it. But it monitors over time the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the room,” said Erin. 

 

The air quality reader in Erin’s room

 

C02 levels get concerning once it reaches 700 ppm. The C02 reader in Erin Mooney’s room once read 695, dangerously close to the exceeding limit. 

 

Some classrooms like Erin’s, located on the second floor, do not have windows that open to the outside. David Hannigan, director of buildings and grounds here at U-32, suggests that when faced with poor ventilation, teachers should open a window to improve airflow. However, for Erin, Nick Holquist, a high school English teacher, and Alison Brynes, a ninth-grade math teacher, this isn’t possible. 

 

Alison says that other teachers had been given air purifiers and sensors, but she was not. Alison said, “And when I followed up, I got no response.” 

 

Without these measures, Alison isn’t sure what the air quality in her room is. “Hopefully they have tested these rooms and it’s safe and it’s fine. But you don’t know if they were just kind of trusting that they’re following up on that regularly and making sure that we’re all safe.”

 

Erin is located in room 239, which does not have any windows to the outside. This contributes to the lack of circulation in her classroom. “…after a large class, it starts to get a little stuffy…if we have a few classes back to back it gets pretty stuffy.” 

 

The reader instructs Erin to open a window; however, this is not possible

 

However, sometimes Erin says the room feels perfectly fine. “When I come in in the morning, it’s okay,” said Erin.

 

Alison Brynes and Nick Holquist have rooms with similar ventilation problems. “Rooms like this one {238}, that have no windows that go outside,” said Nick Holquist. 

 

Erin, Nick, and Alison have all noticed that the air quality seems to grow worse in the hotter months. Nick said, “Mostly, [the students] complain about the heat. I’ve had a few students say they’ve noticed that it feels different [by a few] degrees.” 

 

“I think in the summer months when it gets really hot, it’s hard because there’s no air circulation,” said Alison. The heat affects student’s and teachers’ concentration in the classroom. “…the effects of lower carbon dioxide in a room is that people feel a little bit groggy,” said Erin. 

 

Erin has noticed that effects impact the students even when it is not hot outside, “Everybody starts to notice that they feel a little tired…the air is just a little bit lacking oxygen.” 

 

Unlike Erin, Nick doesn’t have a monitor in his classroom. Instead, his classroom was given an air purifier. “[it] appeared during COVID times. I didn’t ask for it,” said Nick. 

 

David Hannigan says that there are C02 sensors in all the hallways and throughout the classrooms thanks to the Energy Recovering Units (ERUs)  ventilation systems to ensure C02 levels stay at a safe quantity.

 

An ERU

 

Most classrooms’ heating and ventilation are controlled by ERUs, the exceptions being the library, auditorium, and atrium, which run on Air Handling Units (AHUs). Controlled with his computer, David can monitor C02 levels and adjust the systems as needed from his computer. “If [the C02 level] goes too high, I’ll get sent an alarm,” said David. From there, he can turn up fans in the unit. 

 

This diagram shows which rooms are too hot or cold (in red) and which rooms are at the right temperature (green).

 

However, he has received noise complaints from the ERUs working harder. David said, “ I started getting complaints about the air quality in those rooms that are served by that unit. To turn it back up and then I get noise complaints.”

 

Air quality concerns around the state are on the rise, especially with the renovations at Burlington High School. BHS had high levels of PCBs, a chemical that can be linked to cancer. Air sampling was done at U-32 in the late summer months to test for this same chemical.  

 

Test results show that some spaces in the building exceed what is considered safe, but not high enough to warrant immediate action. U-32 principal Steven Dellinger-Pate said, “They are not a major threat or concern to us, but they are something that we want to get rid of.”

 

PCBs were measured in nanograms per cubic meter. The highest level U-32 is allowed to have is 100 ng/m^3. Some rooms like the dance studio and auditorium have levels of 130 and 110 ng/m^3, and the tech ed workshop as well as the athletic training rooms had similar levels. Unoccupied spaces like stairwells and closets had levels of 170 ng/m^3, 190 ng/m^3, and even 210 ng/m^3.

 

 “Everything in our building is below 300 [ng/m^3] which means that we want to go in and get it cleaned out, but it’s still safe for us to be in in the meantime,” said Steven. 

 

The PCB test results in an email from U-32 principal Steven Dellinger-Pate and Superintendent Meagan Roy

 

U-32 will be working with Stone Environmental in the next few months to get rid of the PCBs. The first step is to put air purifiers in the occupied rooms that exceed 100 ng/m^3. “they’re going to start testing things that might have PCBs in them so we could identify where they’re coming from,” said Steven. 

 

Testing for Radon, another dangerous chemical linked to cancer, will occur in December. David said,  “We need to check all our schools,”            

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