Clean air in schools could become New Mexico law

Though New Mexico requires public schools to upgrade their heating and air conditioning systems to clean indoor air well enough to eliminate coronavirus and other damage, people can’t easily verify that their local school district actually meets those standards.

A proposed law – backed by unions representing teachers and sheet metal workers in New Mexico – seeks to change that.

COVID is highlighting the need for action on ventilation systems, Rep. Christine Chandler said. She and Rep. Joy Garratt, a former governess, sponsor house bill 30which would create the Public School Ventilation Act.

“Good airflow and systems impact staff and student health in a very important way,” Chandler said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 95% of all children in the US are affected infected at least once.

States have been slow to respond to ventilation, she said, although the Environmental Protection Agency has raised it as an issue and hasn’t gotten much traction either.

“We don’t have the staff or the capacity at PED to go out and inspect every single building,” said Antonio Ortiz, director of finance and operations for the New Mexico Public Education Department in one interview last year.

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The federal government has allocated millions of dollars to pandemic relief to pay for filters and upgrades. the American Bailout Act recognizes that ventilation systems need to be modernized, Chandler said, so the bill comes in time to raise public awareness of the need to address this issue.

Improving ventilation would reduce influenza and asthma rates, she said, which will increase student attendance and participation. It should also lower carbon monoxide levels in schools, which would help everyone, students, staff and teachers alike, she said.

“It sounds like a mundane contract bill, but it’s a bill that has real health implications that could be very supportive for students, teachers and educators in the schools,” Chandler said. “There are many people affected by the need for safe environments in school systems across the state.”

Parents have also raised concerns with Chandler about ventilation systems in schools. She received an email Thursday from a parent asking about the ventilation system in the Los Alamos public schools system because they are relocating and would like to know what the standards are so they can see if they are using the school district for a safe place keep their children.

A medical study published in December shows that 45% of COVID cases – including in children – lead to it persistent symptoms.

Highest filter quality required

Source New Mexico’s reporting raised questions about which schools had the necessary technology and sufficiently strong filters in place, and showed it State officials have not conducted a systematic review determine whether the schools meet the requirements.

“This legislation would require a comprehensive assessment of all ventilation systems in the schools,” Chandler said.

The language in the pre-submitted invoice requires These reviews must be conducted every five years – and these records must be public.

It requires that assessments include testing for the best possible filter efficiency and corrective actions such as replacing old filters with those rated MERV-13 or better. These are good enough to pull COVID-19 aerosols and other viruses and pollutants out of the air.

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It also requires measuring airflow, verifying maintenance, fitting carbon dioxide sensors, and collecting data for installing permanent HVAC systems where they are not.

Under the bill, portable filters and air purifiers found in some New Mexico schools and healthcare facilities would only be used in schools when the central HVAC system couldn’t do the job.

This isn’t the first time the bill has been introduced, Chandler said. When a similar measure Making its way through the 2021 legislature, it was approved by the House of Representatives and a Senate committee, but never received a vote by the full Senate.

The American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and Local 49 of the Sheet Metal Air Rail & Transportation Workers raised the issue with Chandler last year, she said. But 2022 only had a shorter, 30-day, budget-focused legislature. All non-budget bills had to be submitted by the governor, so they didn’t actively pursue it, she said.