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Letter to the editor: Mount Abe air quality issue needs quick attention

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Posted on September 10, 2018 |
By David Brynn



A person working at Mount Abraham Union High School recently told me, “Having started back to work at Mt. Abraham after two months away, the first thing I noticed was my headaches were back. I know for a fact it’s the air quality. The area I work in reached 85 degrees last week....”

Breath is life. No breath, no life. Healthy air is the foundation of healthy life. Based on these rather basic concepts, we have chosen to focus now on indoor air quality — or lack thereof — at Mount Abraham Union High School.

There are many parameters and ways to measure indoor air quality. With a $10 digital device, for example, one can measure air temperature and relative humidity. Some digital devices even give us a happy face when the temperature and relative humidity are in their proper ranges. The point is that we need to carefully measure it and act upon the data.

NOTE: To be crystal clear, temperature and humidity are only starter metrics. We also want to be sure: the air is relatively free of pollutants, allergens, molds and mildews; that it is fresh (well oxygenated and low in CO2) and smells good (not musty and stale as is the case in many places in the building).

We know from stacks of research that minds work best at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. They work pretty well at 76 degrees F and, at 80 degrees F, they are left exhausted and compromised. This is why our Mount Abraham HVAC (i.e. heating, ventilation and air conditioning) — IAQ (i.e. indoor air quality) Citizens (i.e. unpaid volunteers) Group has spent the past six months working on the topic.

Our rather simple goal was to begin credible, community-accessible, cost-effective assessment of indoor air quality at Mount Abe and to have in place effective, publicly available, monitoring procedures to be employed with the empowered involvement of Mount Abe students and community members.

A key target was to have basic assessment and monitoring in place before the onset of “the fall 2018 shoulder season” and before Mount Abe was under “full load.” This is the situation when the existing ventilation system is at its worst because it is drawing in hot-though-fresh air and the building is full of people. The Central Office was on board but, unfortunately, these basic targets are being missed. There are several reasons for this.

One reason now being pointed to by the Central Office is the need to conduct a complete energy assessment of all six schools concurrently. This energy assessment is, of course, a great idea — optimizing energy use is essential if we are to save money and the planet. However, there was and is no reason to derail the stand-alone IAQ. In fact, it is uncertain that the energy assessment will answer the pressing IAQ issues that need to be tended to now.

For once, funding is not an issue. The initial assessment with student involvement was estimated to be less than $10,000. There is or was cash on hand for this. This is a task that the superintendent can implement without a long list of meetings and RFPs. H.L. Turner Group, a Vermont firm ideally suited to conduct the initial IAQ assessment, including student involvement, was and is ready to help. Students were gearing up as well.

Yes, let’s support a comprehensive six-school energy assessment. That will take significantly more time and resources. But, while we are at it, let’s bring back the basic standalone IAQ assessment now. Mount Abe needs a credible, cost-effective win focusing on IAQ now. Students and staff should not be exposed to yet another school year with shoulder seasons of super-heated air. And it appears that we will not need an enormous bond to pass in order to begin addressing the essential IAQ issues.

David Brynn

Bristol

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