In the midst of the ever-challenging global Covid-19 pandemic, as part of a small study and pilot, two North East Derbyshire schools are amongst three UK schools who have been gifted Air Filtration machines by members of The Air Purification Trade Association (APTA). The two local schools are Barlborough Primary School & The Spencer Academy at Inkersall.  

The scientist agree that Covid -19 is airborne

As we consider the role and value of Air Filtration as part of a Covid-19 risk reduction strategy and as governments around the world search to find solutions to remove the risk of virus spread, many scientific experts have declared that the primary spread of Covid-19 is through aerosol transmission, which are tiny droplets that humans emit when we breathe, talk, cough and sneeze As a result of this, a significant number of building operators are turning to Air Filtration units to help reduce risk. 

But does stand-alone Air Filtration work? 

Over the years, dozens of studies have been conducted to assess the efficacy of stand-alone Air Filtration machines. However, the studies that are attracting the most respect are the ones that involve real life situations. For example, in a recent independent study by Cambridge University Hospital, stand-alone Air Filtration units that harness HEPA filters (high efficiency particulate air filters) and Ultraviolet (UV) lights, proved to remove SARS-CoV-2 from the air.

Commenting on the study via the Cambridge University website, first author Dr Andrew Conway Morris, from the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: 

“We were really surprised by quite how effective air filters were at removing airborne SARS-CoV-2 on the wards. Although it was only a small study, it highlights their potential to improve the safety of wards, particularly in areas not designed for managing highly infectious diseases such as Covid-19”

Studying the flow of air indoors

In Australia, in studies conducted by Professor Jason Monty of Melbourne University (which are documented in a five-minute YouTube video), he revealed that stand-alone air filtration units are very effective at removing aerosols. 

In the video, Professor Monty remarked:

“What we found is that with standard building ventilation settings, aerosols can hang around for a very long time, up to hours. So, it’s imperative that we do something to try and reduce the amount of aerosol in a room. What we found is that a cheap and very effective way to do this is to use easily obtained portable air cleaners. These portable cleaners can reduce the time that aerosol spends in a room from hours down to minutes”

The Air Filtration devices will be used to support natural ventilation in the schools

In their on-line guide for all building operators, the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) emphasise the importance of opening windows to disperse and dilute potential Covid-19 particles. A spokesperson for APTA said:

“In offering these machines to the schools, we have made sure the participating schools know they must follow all HSE guidance, and this includes continuing to keep windows open. The Air Filtration units are part of a risk reduction strategy. At this point in the battle against Covid-19, there are no guaranteed ways to totally eliminate the risk of virus spread but there is an increasing supply of evidence to show that Air Filtration can play a useful part in reducing risk”

Indoor air quality was a challenge before Covid-19  

Whilst the current focus on indoor air quality control revolves around Covid-19 mitigation, the health challenges created by air quality are long recognised. In a June 2021 study, respected charity Global Action Plan, who champion clean air, revealed that over a quarter of UK schools are in areas where air pollution is above the World Health Organisation (WHO) limit.

The data, which was collected by Earth Sense, reveals that 7,852 out of 28,965 UK schools are in areas where particulate matter (PM2.5) is higher than the WHO recommended ‘safe’ level of 10ug/m3.

Commenting on this study, APTA said:

“Clearly, overcoming the significant air quality challenge requires huge effort on the part of all the industries and the technology that cause air pollution. However, whilst this significant work is taking place, a good quality Air Filtration unit, using a HEPA 13 or 14 filter, is proven to remove 99.97% of particles from the air – and this includes the PM 2.5 particles that are recognised as being damaging to human health”     

Gratitude from the schools 

Thousands of older school buildings around the UK do not enjoy the benefit of modern ventilation systems, and that is certainly the case for the three schools taking part in this pilot.  Expressing her gratitude to the APTA members for providing the machines, Headteacher of Inkersall Spencer Academy Sarah Allison said:

‘Our school is a very traditional 1970s clasp building, with lots of issues including poor heating and ventilation, we don’t have the benefit of modern ventilation and heating systems. The school gets too hot in the summer and far too cold in the winter months, so it is even colder when we are having to have windows and doors open for ventilation purposes. We are grateful to APTA and to Medicair, the manufacturer who provided our ventilation machines. The last two years have been especially challenging for all schools – including teachers, staff, pupils and parents. After using the Department for Educations CO2 monitors it was obvious that our classrooms were not properly ventilated unless doors and windows were fully open, which meant staff and children were cold through the day. It has been a pleasure to receive the units to give us the peace of mind that the air in our classrooms is being filtered to support natural ventilation, allowing us to feel a little more comfortable in our space. It is lovely to feel that people care about schools in this way, and we cannot thank APTA enough for allowing us to have the machines” 

Dr Connor Bryant of Medicair, the APTA member company who provided the machines to Inkersall Spencer Academy School said:

“We are ecstatic to be providing our MedicAir units into Inkersall Spencer Academy School.  When we conducted our own scientific study, we were surprised to find that, even with windows open, the air quality in classrooms was lower than the World Health Organisation recommended guidelines. However, when MedicAir was introduced into the rooms, the contamination of the air reduced significantly, falling to well below the WHO standards. Air purification is effective, simple and cost effective” 

The head teacher at Barlborough school was equally pleased with their complimentary supply of Air Filtration machines, Kerry Towndrow Birds said.  

“Parts of our school are very old, and we don’t have the benefit of modern ventilation systems. Considering this predicament, we are grateful to APTA and to AirX Pro, the manufacturer who provided our machines. The last two years have been especially challenging for all schools – including teachers, staff, pupils and parents. It’s heart-warming to feel that people care and APTA have worked with us to ensure we continue to follow HSE guidance, with these new machines giving us an extra layer of essential protection”

Julian Martin, who is Managing Director of Martin Industries Ltd, who manufacture the AirX Pro systems, and the APTA member company who provided the machines to Barlborough Primary School said:

“There is a growing body of evidence to prove the value of stand-alone Air Filtration units and we are pleased and proud to have given Barlborough Primary School access the machines that can help to reduce risk of airborne infection and those dangerous PM 2.5 particles. Working alongside APTA, we are committed to making sure the UK government and local authorities around the UK understand the true value of Air Filtration and this pilot should help with that objective”      

Attitudes and actions from governments around the world 

In a demonstration of respect for the value that Air Filtration devices offer, the Australian Department for education bought 19,000 air filtration machines for their schools. Here in Europe, the German government is investing $500 million to support public buildings with the objective improved ventilation. Here in the UK, the government have announced modest funding and support for up to 7,000 machines. APTA commented    

“Covid-19 has created a very challenging time for the people of Britain and the UK authorities. Our government have been under intense pressure from all quarters in these unprecedented times, and we do not wish to criticise them. However, there is a growing body of evidence in support of Air Filtration units that use HEPA filters and UV lights. The Bradford pilot is a positive development but with almost 9 million pupils attending 25,000+ UK schools – that are served by almost 1 million staff, and with staff and pupils spending hours in the same indoor space, it’s clear that our schools can become one the main breeding grounds for Covid-19 and other viruses. This begs the question, what is more important than the health of our children and the teachers that serve them? APTA would like to see the UK government moving faster on the challenge of school air quality” 

Commenting on the work of APTA and the school challenges, Toby Perkins, the MP for Chesterfield said:

“I would like to express gratitude to APTA and to Medicair for choosing to support a school in my constituency. With almost 30,000 schools across the UK and close to 11 million people congregating in our schools for several hours each day, it’s clear that the government must do more, quickly, to increase the number of air filtration units in British schools. 

The government have accepted the benefits of air filtration by purchasing 8,000 units but their approach still leaves the vast majority of schools out and excludes many leading British manufacturers. Our government have had 18 months to prioritise air filtration and should look to match the efforts of the leading governments around the world”