As evidence mounts that coronavirus is transmitted primarily through airborne particles, unions representing teachers and school leaders have written to the Education Secretary asking for “urgent action” to improve ventilation and install air purification units in classrooms.
Meanwhile, a government-backed trial of air purifiers and UV light is getting under way in Bradford to assess their efficacy in mitigating the transmission of coronavirus and other respiratory diseases in schools. However, results from this trial will not be known until at least the end of the year.
Given that the government’s own scientific advisory groups had formally acknowledged aerosol transmission of the virus in indoor spaces back in summer 2020, current action is too little, too late. To protect the wellbeing of children and avoid further disruption to their learning we need a concerted effort to improve IAQ in our schools right now.
We also need to ensure that schools are using the appropriate technology for their IAQ strategies, not only to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 but all future variants and other harmful viruses and avoid suffering the blunt instrument of lockdowns.
Why then are researchers in the government-backed trial only testing one type of technology when there are now several available in the marketplace?
Arguably, the IAQ market is now full of legacy technologies that can’t deliver the required outcomes for today’s highly evolved and hyper-connected environments. Most are passive, only treat air and not surfaces, require regular maintenance and cannot deal with NO2 – a major problem, particularly for inner-city schools. Some technologies have been found to create more problems than they solve. HEPA filters, for example, are not recyclable and end up in landfill.
Newer technologies such as needlepoint bipolar ionisation (NPBI) can neutralise pathogens in air and on surfaces, eliminate NO2 and are environmentally friendly. Despite being used successfully in hundreds of schools and hospitals and, in the case of NPBI, in the White House and Air Force One in the US, and by hotels and local authorities here in the UK, we are forever being told that ‘other’ technologies are ‘unproven’.
Instead, government, FMs and academics stick with what they know whilst the technology evolves and they look away. The Bradford trial is a major missed opportunity to see how these new technologies measure up. ‘Better the devil you know’ is not what our children deserve when it comes to the air that they breathe.