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DPS installs new air filters to reduce COVID-19 particles

CU Boulder researchers are tracking the performance of the high-efficiency filters.

DENVER — Students in more than 20 Denver schools will breathe in cleaner air as they return to class for the spring semester after Denver Public Schools (DPS) installed high-efficiency air filters throughout the district.  

CU Boulder helped install new air filters and Carrier's Healthy Buildings Program provided the filters for research. Each filter has a new design that will better reduce particles in the classrooms, especially when it comes to COVID-19.

"In terms of public health protection, this is real, this is now," Environmental Engineering Professor Mark Hernandez said. "This is really translating stuff to practice." 

Professor Hernandez said while his team of students is still analyzing data, the results are promising so far. The researchers will monitor how the filters are working through the spring semester with a goal to make the air in classrooms as clean as the outdoors.

"We spent most of Christmas break monitoring what's the background when there's nobody there," Hernandez explained. "The hope is we can keep those particle levels close to background. You can never get it to background. But at least to a good air quality day in Denver."

Hernandez said the team focused on getting the air filters in DPS buildings with older infrastructure because some of the older district buildings don't have great ventilation.

"For this virus that travels through the air the ventilation is key," Hernandez said. "These filters supplement the ventilation system in the older buildings to bring them up to those modern buildings with great ventilation. So there's equity across the district in terms of exposure."

Hernandez said he hopes additional funding from the second COVID-19 relief package will be used to expand or optimize the study. He said this collaboration feels like a 'once in a career' opportunity.

"One of the reasons I wanted to become an environmental engineer is we're responsible for the public health at large," Hernandez explained. "We're the people that clean the water out of your tap, clean wastewater before it goes into the river and now we're actually cleaning the air in buildings. That's a big step for environmental engineering. It's incredibly rewarding to see our students out in the field doing this in our backyard."

DPS said the project has been helpful in determining how to allocate funding for additional mitigation.