Quebec aims to deploy 90,000 CO2 detectors in schools by mid-December

Education ministry had wanted to complete task by autumn and back-to-school

Air quality experts with the Quebec government are giving their assurances that up to 90,000 carbon dioxide (CO2) detectors will be installed in schools across the province by mid-December in a bid to improve the overall air quality in Quebec’s public education institutions.

The news, delivered by Deputy Education Minister Marc Sirois and air quality researcher Ali Bahloul during a press conference in Montreal recently, contradicted Education Minister Jean-François Roberge’s assertion in June that CO2 detectors would be installed in all Quebec’s public schools by fall when classes resume after the summer break.

Doing it correctly

Although Sirois maintained during the technical briefing that implementation of the detectors will begin in September, he added that the government wants to see they get installed effectively and correctly, hence more time is needed to meet the goal.

“This is a major undertaking,” said Sirois. “We are talking about 90,000 detectors in 4,000 locations. We wanted to do this quickly, but also to do it well. In 90 per cent of cases, ventilation is adequate.”

While saying that the government tried to do things as quickly as possible, he said the suppliers of the detectors needed time to get into the schools where the detectors will be deployed. “We proceeded at the greatest speed we could while assuring quality,” Sirois said.

December deadline

While the government had planned to issue calls for bids on the supply of the CO2 detectors at the beginning of June, it was only in mid-July that the process got underway. Installation of all the detectors is expected to be finished by Dec. 17.

Based on testing conducted last winter, the education ministry insists that the quality of the air at most schools across the province is “acceptable,” although the detectors will help maintain it at that level or lead to improvements.

Health not an issue

Installation of up to three-quarters of the CO2 detectors is expected to be completed by the middle of November, half by mid-October, and a quarter by mid-September. “In 90 per cent of cases, the ventilation is adequate,” added Sirois. “This is something involving comfort. So, there are no issues involving the health of students.”

The Quebec education ministry plans to install 90,000 CO2 detectors in 4,000 public school locations by mid-December

Ali Balhoul, who is a clean air specialist with the Robert-Sauvé Institute of research for Workplace Health and Security (IRSST), agreed the delay installing the CO2 detectors is justifiable and valid, and due in part to logistics impacting the suppliers.

“It’s time to stop the fear campaigns,” said Balhoul. “In addition to improving the quality of the air, we will be testing it as never before.”

Current levels ‘acceptable’

The provincial government hopes to lower the concentration of CO2 to 1,000 parts per million (ppm) throughout the public school system. According to the government, the average level is currently 1,500 ppm, regarded as acceptable and much lower than the 5,000-ppm level Health Canada defines as posing health risks.

Explaining how the detectors will operate, Sirois said they will be taking air readings every five minutes during every hour when classes are in session in the schools. As CO2 levels fluctuate, teachers will be able to take measures to counteract excessive levels by opening doorways or windows as deemed necessary.

No impact on Covid

In the meantime, health and air quality officials acknowledge that detecting the excessive presence of CO2 in classrooms will have no impact on the spread of COVID-19. Still, the education ministry is advising that the best protection against Covid in classrooms in the coming school year will be face masks to protect against airborne droplets which are the most common medium for Covid spread.

In addition to all this, the cost for the implementation of the CO2 detector program remains secret, since the CAQ government claims it didn’t want public information on costs to interfere with the call for bids.