ESSER Air Quality Improvement Funds for Schools
School buildings have been slowly deteriorating over the years, and COVID highlighted some of the physical updates that need to be made at schools to best serve students, teachers, and staff. One of the major focal points has been indoor air quality since COVID is an airborne virus that spreads through particles floating in the air.
Clean indoor air goes beyond helping mitigate the spread of COVID. Cleaning your indoor air with real HEPA air purifiers will help mitigate the spread of every airborne illness including the flu and common cold, which is crucial in a school packed with children.
Air purifiers will help filter out allergens to mitigate allergy and asthma symptoms decreasing student and teacher absenteeism and increasing the ability to focus without fighting runny noses and headaches.
Most schools haven’t upgraded their HVAC systems or installed portable air purifiers to supplement clean indoor air efforts. There is finally funding available for schools to make sure they’re providing a healthy indoor environment that best fosters learning.
ESSER Funds Overview
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund is part of a COVID-19 aid plan. The federal program has been introduced in 3 batches with staggered deadlines to have a plan in place and distribute the funding.
ESSER funding can be used to implement several solutions including improving air filtration inside and indoor air quality. This funding to improve schools’ indoor air quality was initially started to mitigate the spread of airborne viruses, specifically COVID.
And while the spread of COVID is still a concern, the need to improve indoor air quality in schools has been highlighted in general. Everyone can breathe more easily whether they have a chronic illness like asthma or seasonal allergies when the indoor air is cleaned with portable air purifiers.
The funding is available and the benefits of clean indoor air are undeniable, but there are endless choices on which products to choose to clean your air, so, how do you know what works and what doesn’t?
Certifications to Look for
Unfortunately, there is no standard for choosing air quality improvements for your school or any indoor area. However, there are certifications you can look for to guarantee you’re receiving a quality product.
Two of the most trusted official certifications that require a product to meet certain standards are AHAM Verifide and ENERGY STAR.
AHAM (Association of Home Appliance) has particular standards they look for before they grant a product their certification. They mainly focus on measuring CADR (clean air delivery rate) of an air purifier. Some companies don’t even share their CADR numbers or they share a number that doesn’t follow the official standards.
CADR is a way to know if your air purifier will efficiently clean the entire size of a room. AHAM standards follow a 2/3rds rule that says your CADR should be at least 2/3rds the size of the room you’re trying to clean. For example, if you’re trying to clean a room that’s 300 square feet you’ll need to look for a product that is certified with a CADR of at least 200.
The CADR scale can reach up to 450, but some companies use creative math and claim their devices clean higher than this without having the AHAM certification.
The numbers and explanations tend to muddy the waters, so just make it easy and look for the AHAM Verifide certification.
ENERGY STAR is another certification to look for when purchasing an air purifier. Striving toward having green buildings and schools is built into ESSER funding. Buying ENERGY STAR certified products is a way to guarantee you’re saving energy, and money, when running new devices.
There is also a way to check if a filter is truly a HEPA filter. HEPA filters are the only proven technology to clean your indoor air, so everyone claims to have one in their product. “True HEPA” has become a marketing term in the last few years, but there is a standard a HEPA filter has to meet to be considered a real HEPA filter.
A real HEPA filter needs to be able to clean 99.97% of particles in the 0.3 micron range and capture bigger particles with a great efficiency than 99.97%. Filter cleaning ability is measured by a minimum efficiency reporting value, MERV rating. A HEPA filter needs to have at least a MERV17 rating.
Oransi’s mod and mod jr. are AHAM Verifide, ENERGY STAR certified, and have a MERV rating of 17 making them real HEPA filters. They are available for purchase to safely and effectively clean your indoor air.
Proven Air Cleaning Technology
Although there are no standards across the board for air cleaning technology, there are official recommendations from trusted agencies like the EPA, CDC, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins that can give you confidence in what you purchase.
The CDC, EPA, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins all agree that real HEPA filtration is the safest and most effective air purification technology. Johns Hopkins puts it simply by saying “school administrators and decision makers should purchase HEPA air filtration units to be placed in classrooms and common occupied spaces” to reduce the spread of COVID.
It’s important to stay savvy when looking for portable air purifiers to safely and effectively clean your air. There are countless unproven and potentially dangerous technologies in air purifiers that could do more harm than good. Although it might be tempting to try something new or seemingly more cost effective, it’s best to follow expert recommendations and use tried and true real HEPA filtration.
A Note On Unproven Technology
Many schools have tried to invest in unproven technologies including UV-C light and bipolar ionization to try to mitigate the spread of COVID in the classroom. There is not enough research into emerging technologies to prove their efficacy in cleaning an indoor environment.
With unproven technology, the best case scenario is a waste of money and time. The worst case scenario is the technology is actually harmful and creates more pollution for young lungs than it filters out.
Neither of these scenarios is ideal, especially when using one-time funding. The truth is many schools have had to backtrack and scrape together funds to purchase real HEPA portable air purifiers after experimenting with UV light technology or bipolar ionization to try to effectively clean their indoor air and mitigate the spread of airborne viruses like COVID.
UV light exposure is dangerous and exposure becomes more of a threat when a product doesn’t have proper safeguards. This technology is best used within air ducts to protect against mold growth. UV light requires several minutes of exposure before it can help making it ideal for mold but not for fast moving airborne virus particles.
Bipolar ionization and other ozone generators can create ozone to “shock” airborne pollutants. This process is dangerous and introduces a known indoor air pollutant, ozone, into your air in order to try to filter out other pollutants, which doesn’t make any sense.
HEPA filters don’t introduce anything into your air, they only filter out pollutants.
All you need to clean your indoor air is a portable air purifier that has a HEPA filter and quality motor.
Everything else beyond that is an add-on that raises the price or an unproven technology that is potentially harmful. UV light and other unproven technologies are not ideal in this situation where you want to be sure your new devices are working to help and not harm. Especially when you’re responsible for the health and safety of young lungs.