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Study finds poor air quality in school dramatically improves with filters

CU engineers said it would cost school districts less than the cost of a textbook per child per year to put in the air-purifiers.

BOULDER, Colo. — How safe is the air inside schools? It's a question that many researchers have asked, and now, a University of Colorado team is finding the answer.

From his lab on the CU Boulder campus, engineering professor Mark Hernandez has been studying the quality of the air inside Denver Public Schools. Hernandez and a team researchers installed Attune Indoor Air Quality Monitoring Sensors inside 200 schools last summer so they could see what the students were breathing in real time.

The sensors, which look like a typical smoke detector, generate data on carbon-dioxide levels, chemicals and tiny particles in the air, like viruses, allergens and even smoke.

"We have choices about the water we drink. We can look at the bottle and see what's in it," Hernandez said. "We don't have choices about the air we breathe and the buildings we must occupy."

After the studying the data, the researchers made some interesting discoveries.

"The hypothesis was the newest schools would be the ones with the lowest levels of particulate matter and CO-2, and it didn't work out that way at all," Hernandez said. "... Some of the older schools were very high-performing."

DPS then installed HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) purifiers in classrooms that had poorer air quality. The result?

"It showed in-room air purifiers can work really well when they're engaged," Hernandez said.

The air quality of those classrooms rose to the levels of the schools with the best air quality for less than the cost of a textbook per child per year.

"The myth was: This was too expensive," Hernandez said. "But if you gave up your Starbucks coffee one day a week, it would pay for it."

Hernandez said he hopes all schools start using this technology because as the climate continues to change, so does air quality. He point out that the monitors are simple to install. It only takes a few minutes.

Currently the HEPA purifiers are in 800 DPS classrooms. Hernandez wants to expand that to all 4,000.

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