Air Quality is a Concern at Middle School

A Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) and Bureau of Environmental Health (BEH) study of the indoor air quality (IAQ) at Winthrop Middle School found alarming levels of carbon dioxide in the ageing school.

The study was requested by Eric Moore, a public health administrator at the Winthrop Health Department and found that the school at 151 Pauline St. had carbon dioxide levels above 800 parts per million (ppm) in 51 of 62 areas tested and significantly higher in more than 20 areas.

According to the study these levels indicate poor air exchange in most areas at the time of assessment. In some rooms, carbon dioxide levels were above 3,000 ppm. In many areas, ventilation equipment was found deactivated, therefore no means of mechanical ventilation was being provided to these areas at the time of testing.

The levels at the school, which houses 475 students and 50 staff members, were 200 ppm over the acceptable state threshold for buildings housing children. Because children are more sensitive to carbon dioxide the state threshold for public buildings housing this vulnerable population is 600 ppm. Health effects have documented significant increases in indoor air quality complaints and/or health effects when carbon dioxide levels rise above the MDPH guidelines of 800 ppm for schools, office buildings and other occupied spaces.

The MDPH uses a guideline of 800 ppm for publicly occupied buildings. A guideline of 600 ppm or less is preferred in schools due to the fact that the majority of occupants are young and considered to be a more sensitive population in the evaluation of environmental health status. Inadequate ventilation and elevated temperatures are major causes of complaints such as respiratory, eye, nose and throat irritation, lethargy and headaches.

To maximize air exchange, the MDPH recommended in the report that both supply and exhaust ventilation operate continuously during periods of occupancy. “In order to have proper ventilation with a mechanical supply and exhaust system, the systems must be balanced to provide an adequate amount of fresh air to the interior of a room while removing stale air from the room,” said the report. “It is recommended HVAC systems be re-balanced every five years to ensure adequate air systems function”.

The date of the last balancing of these systems was not available at the time of the assessment, according to the report.

The original portion of Winthrop Middle School was constructed around 1945. The gym was added in 1954, and the rest of the school was constructed in 1972. The building has multi-level flat roofs that are about fifteen years old. The school consists of classrooms, a gymnasium, auditorium, library and offices.

The BEH/IAQ Program previously visited the building in 1994, 1998 and 1999.

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