Middle School Air Quality Level is Safe: State Official Tells School Committee at Meeting

Mike Feeney, the Director of the Air Quality Program for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) was at the last Winthrop School Committee meeting to present the MDPH findings from a air quality study conducted on air quality at Winthrop Middle School. A recent study found high levels of carbon dioxide at the school but Feeny reassured the committee it was not a public health emergency.

“A lot of times people take pieces of the study and do not look at the study as a whole,” said Feeny at the March 14 meeting. “The carbon dioxide levels we found do not pose any health hazards.”

Feeny said the high carbon dioxide levels, while much higher than the state standard in certain parts of the school, simply indicate poor air exchange in most areas of the building at the time of assessment.

“There are different agencies that agree to disagree on how much carbon dioxide is okay,” said Feeny. “I can tell you right now that the levels in this school are no different than levels I’ve seen in hundreds of other buildings.”

What Feeny said was MDPH was focusing on equipment in the building that if not running correctly can add to irritants and, in some cases allergic reactions, in the school.

“Ventilation equipment is designed to bring in fresh air thus dilluting irritants like dust,” said Feeny. “The exhaust then moves these irritants out.”

What Feeny said he found was equipment that was over 35 years old, haphazardly fixed and blocked exhaust vents throughout the school. “We found filters have not been changed in two years when filters in other schools are typically changed two to four times a year,” said Feeny. Feeny also made recomendations to the School Committee in order to make the air quality beter for students and staff.

“There is no immidiate danger but the conditions may make some uncomfortable,” he said.

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, Feeny recommended in the report that both supply and exhaust ventilation operate continuously during periods of occupancy.

He also recommended keeping classroom windows open whenever possible and change filters regularly.

“These are things the school department can do in the short term while looking down the road at the construction of a new middle school,” said Feeny.

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