Montreal parents are making homemade air purifiers to keep kids safe in school

·2 min read
Olivier Drouin delivered three Corsi-Rosenthal filters to schools in the province with more on the way.  (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
Olivier Drouin delivered three Corsi-Rosenthal filters to schools in the province with more on the way. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)

After over two years of demanding better ventilation and air purifiers in classrooms, parents in Montreal are taking matters into their own hands.

Close to a thousand people have signed an online petition calling on the Quebec government to allow DIY air purifiers in the classroom as children headed back to school last week with few COVID-19 precautions.

Now parents are creating their own at home. The Corsi-Rosenthal box can easily be made from four filters, a box fan and duct tape — all for less than $100.

"If they don't want to invest in cleaning the air, that's fine. We'll do it," said Meredith Bedard, a mother of two children in elementary school who helped launch the petition.

Olivier Drouin of Covid Écoles Québec has been building the homemade purifiers and so far has delivered them to two classrooms. He said it's just the beginning.

"I already have five other requests in backlog, so there's lots of interest out there," said Drouin. "It's a very very simple solution to a complex problem."

The provincial government has been reluctant to provide schools with air purifiers since in-person classes resumed, saying they are not a "magic bullet."

They also said the homemade air purifiers offer no guarantee of quality and schools using them would be responsible for any injuries they could cause.

"I feel very disappointed that in these three years, they've done absolutely nothing to clean the air. Especially as I have a child with severe asthma," said Bedard.

Rowan Kennedy/CBC
Rowan Kennedy/CBC

The Ministry of Health told CBC in an email Sunday its expert committee on ventilation did not recommend the use of air purifiers in the classroom because it says "they are not as effective in large spaces occupied by several people."

"I don't understand how that's more of a liability than doing nothing and letting countless children get infected because nothing was done," said Bedard.

Jeffrey Siegel, a physical and environmental sciences professor at the University of Toronto , says Quebec's strategy to monitor carbon in classrooms isn't enough.

"I'm very troubled by that argument," he said. "The problem is that we need removal by ventilation and filtration and many schools don't have adequate ventilation."

This is especially true when the weather gets either really hot or really cold as classrooms can't open their windows, said Siegel. He says purifiers are "fundamentally a really important strategy," and not using them is "sacrificing the health of the kids."

As for the homemade purifiers, Siegel said he is unaware of any health risks they could pose as the model is "not a new idea, but a very good one."

"For the dollar, that is the best air purifier that money can buy," he said.