The Legault government and the Department of Education say they are “following expert recommendations” for air quality in schools. But the 1500 ppm CO standard2 adopted to curb the spread of COVID-19 in schools has not been approved by the expert advisory committee. The latter recommended a maximum threshold of 1000 ppm instead, learned The press†
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To justify its 1,500 parts per million (ppm) standard for classroom work, the Ministry of Education says it relies mainly on a study by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) and on a standard of a worldwide association of construction services engineers (the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, or CIBSE). However, the CIBSE recommends a standard of 800 ppm during a pandemic. And the INSPQ study indicates that 1000 ppm is the most important standard worldwide for reducing the spread of COVID-19.
This distinction between 1000 and 1500 ppm is important in practice: 18.5% of classes in schools in Quebec had an average concentration between 1000 and 1500 ppm in the week of April 25, compared to 23.2% a month earlier, according to the most recent data publicly available by the Quebec Ministry of Education. In comparison, 2.4% of the classes in Quebec had a concentration above 1500 ppm.
Quebec’s Minister of Education, Jean-François Robberge, has declined our request for an interview.
“We are following the recommendations of the experts,” the cabinet of Minister Roberge said by email. In its guideline, the ministry aims to ensure that the average daily concentration of CO2 remains below 1000 ppm, but considers an average concentration of less than 1500 ppm as an indication of good ventilation. […] We have invested nearly half a billion dollars in work that affects air quality. […] More than 96% of the classes have a CO rate2 less than 1500ppm. According to our experts, this is good news. †
The committee recommended 1000 ppm
Two non-government members of the committee of six experts confirmed that the committee had recommended a maximum standard of 1000 ppm CO2†
“1000 ppm or less is the recommendation we have given. […] That’s the goal,” said Ali Bahloul, a prevention researcher at the Robert-Sauvé Research Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (IRSST) and a member of the committee.
“I don’t tear my shirt [pour 1500 ppm]† But the standard that we have to reach, that we have to strive for is 1000 ppm,” says the Dr Stéphane Perron, doctor specialized in public health at INSPQ and member of the committee.
The Ministère de l’Education believes that it followed the recommendations of the Committee of Experts by setting a “target” of 1000 ppm.
From 1000 to 1500 ppm, the Ministry of Education asks schools to open windows and doors. If there is a ventilation system, schools should also check this system. But between 1000 and 1500 ppm, Quebec does not ask schools to report these problems to it to carry out work or have an air exchanger installed by Quebec.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the Department of Education has supplied 1,132 air exchangers to schools, including about 650 since February 2022. An air exchanger costs about $2,000.
Has Public Health approved the 1500 ppm?
Has the Direction nationale de santé publique du Québec approved the Ministry of Education’s 1500 ppm standard in schools?
“Yes, through the committee [consultatif] “, the Ministry of Education indicates by e-mail.
Public health does not have exactly the same discourse. “The National Directorate of Public Health has not set any thresholds [de CO2] in schools, the health ministry says by email.
According to the Ministry of Health, Health has only recommended meeting the “hourly air change requirements” specified in the Working Conditions Act†
Quebec’s acting national director of public health, Dr.r Luc Boileau, did not respond to .’s interview request The press†
The INSPQ study and the CIBSE standard
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a concentration of CO2 less than 800ppm. In France, Health and the Ministry of Education also require less than 800 ppm. Germany recommends less than 1000 ppm, as does the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Quebec has instead opted for the 1500 ppm standard above which work is underway to improve air quality in schools. Great Britain also uses this standard.
To choose 1500 ppm, the Ministry of Education of Quebec states that it relies on an examination of the INSPQ, a German standard and the international standard of the CIBSE. According to Quebec, the latter two standards “indicate that 1500 ppm is the threshold above which one can conclude that there is insufficient ventilation of the property”.
According to the INSPQ study, the CIBSE estimates that more than 1500 ppm during normal times corresponds to “insufficient ventilation of the property”. But in times of pandemic, the CIBSE recommends a CO threshold2 less than 800 ppm, the INSPQ notes.
In its study published in June 2021, the INSPQ assesses the different CO standards2 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the air. The INSPQ does not recommend a maximum threshold, but notes that the vast majority of standards are between 1000 and 1200 ppm. “Most standards are at 1000 ppm,” confirms the Dr Stephane Perron, of the INSPQ.
the dr Perron and researcher Ali Bahloul want to make it clear that the role of the advisory committee is to recommend a maximum threshold, not to decide at what pace air quality should be worked on in schools. “Management [du parc immobilier]it falls under the Ministry of Education,” says Dr.r peron. “We know that there are aging schools. It is up to the Minister of Education to look at the maintenance priorities. †
With a limited budget, the Dr Perron believes the Department of Education “has the right approach” by prioritizing classes with a threshold above 2000 ppm, over those with a threshold between 1500 and 2000 ppm.
He also states that Quebec is “highly transparent” in publishing CO data.2 in schools. “We don’t see that otherwise in the world,” says the Dr peron. In the United States and Germany, classes are far from reaching the standards [de 1000 ppm]† †
The Ministry of Education says it respects expert advice because the “target” is 1000 ppm. “The thresholds of 1500 and 2000 are not a goal in themselves, but scales that allow us to prioritize our actions. The ministry is aligned with the committee [consultatif] ‘ he says by email.
On February 23, when he first revealed the results of the CO sensors2the Department of Education mentioned only the 1500 ppm standard in its press release.
“Ventilating is always a good idea”
According to the INSPQ, COVID-19 is transmitted by nearby droplets and also through the air. But in school “most of the transmission is close” by droplets, says the Dr Stephane Perron, of the INSPQ. “The mask is more important than ventilation” as a health measure, he illustrates. For example, a student is probably more at risk of contracting COVID-19 in a class at 900 ppm without other sanitary measures than in a room at 1300 ppm with sanitary measures (with a mask, no students in the class with symptoms). the dr Perron believes that air quality and ventilation are “important complementary” solutions to combat the spread of COVID-19 in schools. “Ventilating is always a good idea,” he says.
A threshold that “hides reality”
The objective of the Ministry of Education for the coming school year: that 100% of the classes meet the standard of 1500 ppm CO2, he says by email. Quebec does not give itself a quantified target on its “goal” of 1000 ppm for the next school year.
The two main education unions, the Centrale des unions du Québec (CSQ; 125,000 members in education) and the Independent Federation of Education (FAE; 50,000 members), are asking Quebec for the standard of 1,500 to 1,000 ppm for work about air quality in classrooms.
The FAE is taking Quebec to court, among other things, to lower the standard to 1,000 ppm. “The government is making necessary corrections to classrooms by prioritizing urgent situations,” Quebec said in a court document seeking to drop the lawsuit.
By setting its standard at 1500 ppm, Quebec has tried to camouflage reality. It led him to believe that the rates weren’t that problematic. [La norme de 1500 ppm] is not based on science, it is a political gesture aimed at preserving the image of the minister and of the government.
Sylvain Malette, President of the Autonomous Federation of Education
“We have to solve the problem, and we are still looking for the plan [de Québec], says Eric Gingras, president of the CSQ. What are we doing in schools not to open the windows for 15 minutes during the break next winter? There is no point. †
Professor Maximilien Debia, an expert in environmental health and hygiene in the workplace, believes Quebec should be inspired by France and set its limit at 800 ppm. Indeed, “1500 ppm is a level” [de concentration] Very important. With COVID-19, the trend has been to go down from 1200-1000 ppm to 800 ppm, not 1500 ppm,” said Debia, a professor at the University’s School of Public Health in Montreal.
The opposition parties in the National Assembly also think the standard of 1500 ppm in the classrooms is too high. The Quebec Liberal Party has introduced a bill to lower the maximum threshold to 700 ppm in schools during a pandemic (and to 1000 ppm outside a pandemic).