Letter to Montclair schools: Open windows further, get more HEPA purifiers (Town Square)
By JUSTIN KALBIN
Special to Montclair Local
I sent the following letter (edited for length) to Montclair schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds and the individual Board of Education members, with no response. This is always the case with the four or five letters I’ve sent during the pandemic. Zero accountability, zero knowledge of the issues, zero qualifications to manage any of these issues for our 6,700 kids. And zero air quality experts advising the district on policy and implementation. Why are we paying them to act in these roles?
I’ve sent multiple recommendations to you and the board over the past year, many of which have been adopted after a wave of pressure forced these changes. I told you in our Jan. 6 phone call not to install ionizers because they are ineffective and dangerous and would eventually need to be removed. I told you to wait until mid-April to open schools when windows could be fully opened because of spring temperatures. I told you to install energy recovery ventilation units in every classroom because it is the only way to guarantee ventilation in our buildings. These suggestions are based on a knowledge of building systems, our individual school construction and asbestos content, and viral transmission.
You said recently you are up at night worrying about the schools .The current window situation is so ridiculous that you should skip sleeping altogether and go open windows. Would you crack two windows 4 inches if there was odor from a cleaning product or paint in a classroom? You would open them all the way, and COVID-19 is deadly while volatile organic compounds are not.
- Open every window in every room as wide as possible. Windows are open less than 6 inches, if at all. This is an air change per hour (ACH) rate of less than 1. This provides little to no benefit to reduce airborne viral spread. There is no regulation limiting how far they can be opened in a classroom. If you are so concerned with a student falling out, open the top sash all the way or install a security bar in at least one window, and open that one all the way. Place a box fan or similar in front of that window, blowing out. This will draw air in to through other windows.
- Windows should be open in all rooms even if they have mechanical ventilation. There is a lack of understanding of ventilation, but a fan blowing does not mean there is outdoor air coming in. Unless a ventilation and balancing contractor measured makeup air, I assume your mechanical ventilation is bringing in zero fresh air, or an ACH of 0. Window air conditioners do not bring in fresh air.
- Use a minimum of three high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifiers per class, with a clean air delivery rate of 300. One purifier does almost nothing to reduce airborne viral transmission. The $635,000 carelessly spent on ionizers could have been used to purchase 2,540 Honeywell HPA300 HEPA purifiers, proven to arrest viral aerosols like SARS-COV-2. However you allocated funds to purchase completely untested and likely hazardous ionizers. Use the same method to purchase these purifiers. You will use them for years and no one will complain, now or in 10 or 20 years.
- Implement and enforce a uniform plan across the district. This first week of school has shown a complete failure of policy implementation and enforcement. We stayed in the district based on the published policy for windows — this was the only remediation contingency that mattered. The first two days of school have shown a breach of that policy.
- The weather won’t be better than it is now. Formulate a plan for cold weather, and if you can’t do it I would be happy to write a plan for the district.
Justin Klabin is a Montclair parent, and certified indoor air quality manager. He is a consultant on green building and health issues through his company, Klabin Eco Development.
Montclair Local's Opinion section is an open forum for civil discussion in which we invite readers to discuss town matters, articles published in Montclair, or previously published letters. Views expressed and published in this section are solely those of the writers, and do not represent the views of Montclair Local.
Letters to the editor: To submit a letter to the editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail "Letters to the Editor," 309 Orange Road, Montclair, NJ, 07042 (email is preferred). Submissions must include the name, address and phone number of the writer for verification. Only the writer's name and town of residence will be published. Montclair Local does not publish anonymous opinion pieces.
Letters must be no more than 500 words in length, and must be received by 5 p.m. Monday to be eligible for potential publication in that week's Thursday print issue. Letters may be edited by Montclair Local for grammar and style. While our goal is to publish most letters we receive, Montclair Local reserves the right to decline publication of a letter for any reason, including but not limited to concerns about unproven or defamatory statements, inappropriate language, topic matter far afield of the particular interests of Montclair residents, or available space.
Town Square: Montclair Local also accepts longer-form opinion essays from residents aiming to generate discussion on topics specific to the community, under our "Town
Square" banner. "Town Square" essays should be no more than 750 words in length, and topics should be submitted to email@example.com at least seven days prior to publication.