Carbon dioxide monitoring: why we need to stop breathing in other people's breath
September 26, 2022
With research suggesting that the Covid virus is mainly transmitted via airborne particles, governments worldwide are seeking to improve air quality in schools. We break down for you the latest approaches from across the globe, why legislators are getting involved, and how to fix CO2 in schools.
When we hear carbon dioxide discussed, it’s often in the context of outdoor air pollution, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re concerned with the CO2 that builds up indoors when we exhale. In fact, The New York Times recently reported that parents were sneaking in CO2 monitors into their children's schools to determine whether their buildings are safe1.
So, why the sudden focus on indoor CO2?
As we breathe out, we expel CO2. Amidst a pandemic, where we are trying to social distance to protect ourselves and others, high CO2 levels can indicate an overcrowded room and a poorly ventilated space. We are breathing in other people's breath.
The most common routes of transmission for viruses are via microscopic airborne droplets, larger droplets through sneezing or coughing, and surface contact. Distancing and cleaning habits can help mitigate two of those, but what about the tiny droplets we can’t see? These microscopic droplets can stay viable in the air for long periods of time and travel through a building.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch Cabinet have set up a budget of €17M to invest in CO₂ monitoring in schools in 20220.25. They will also set up a national helpline for schools who can contact it for assistance.
In France, the start of the 2022 school year is accompanied by a new health protocol. Ventilating the premises remains one of the most effective tools for reducing the risk of transmission. Communities that have chosen to acquire CO₂ sensors can be financially supported by the State0.5.
In England, the Guardian reports that “the Department for Education (DfE) will spend £25m on providing 300,000 CO₂ monitors to alert staff and students if CO₂ levels rise, meaning that fresh air is failing to circulate”1. By keeping up simple measures such as ventilation and testing, students and educators can enjoy more freedom at school and college.
Similarly, the Belgian authorities recently made monitoring mandatory for people who manage hotels, restaurants, bars, banquet halls and fitness centres to monitor carbon dioxide levels at their venues2.
The German government chose to set up a specific task force, the German Committee on Indoor Air Guide Values (AIR) showing they take indoor air quality seriously. In response to the pandemic, they recommended “that the highest possible supply of fresh air should be provided indoors” and for schools “that CO2 traffic lights can be used as an indicator of good or bad ventilation.”3
The Scottish government also announced "a £25 million package to improve ventilation and reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission" for businesses this September. Support will also be available "to help companies undertake work such as the installation of carbon dioxide monitors and altering windows and vents"3.5.
The one common denominator? Carbon dioxide needs to be monitored. And it needs to be monitored now.
Not to be forgotten, there are also other benefits to monitoring CO2. In busy spaces, high concentrations of the gas can start to impact how employees feel and how effectively they work. When the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied the effects of CO2 on cognitive function, they found that scores were 40% higher in ‘green conditions’ with lower levels of carbon dioxide. The study calculated that better air improved decision-making scores by 101%, which translated into a $17,000 annual productivity boost for each employee4.
Bringing fresh air into a room can be as simple as opening a door or window, but it can also be a sign for the school's facility managers that ventilation systems need to be adjusted. CO₂ monitoring is one of the easiest ways to ensure that the classroom has adequate ventilation to minimize the spread of viruses as well as to ensure that people in the room stay alert and productive.