UPEI faculty and staff call for better air quality to limit spread of COVID-19

·3 min read
 Margot Rejskind, left, and Michael Arfken are both members of the UPEI Faculty Association, which is calling for better indoor air quality on campus.  (Alex MacIsaac/CBC - image credit)
Margot Rejskind, left, and Michael Arfken are both members of the UPEI Faculty Association, which is calling for better indoor air quality on campus. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC - image credit)

Faculty and staff at the University of Prince Edward Island are raising concerns about air quality in some campus buildings.

In a five-page letter to the university president, the UPEI Faculty Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1870 — which represents support staff at UPEI — asked for a "robust" ventilation strategy to limit the spread of COVID-19 on campus. They also asked for cleaner air and more transparency around what the university is doing to improve air quality.

Michael Arfken, president of the association, said his group recently conducted a survey of its members and found that one of the biggest concerns was indoor air quality.

"Our working conditions are students' learning conditions," he said.

Arfken said faculty members want the issue of air quality addressed before classes resume next month.

'Concrete information'

Arfken said faculty members were worried about air quality before COVID-19, but those concerns have only been heightened by the pandemic.

According to Arfken, some faculty members are concerned about the ventilation systems in old buildings. The Main Building, for example, is the oldest building on campus. It was built in 1854 and hasn't seen significant upgrades since the 1980s.

Alex MacIsaac/CBC
Alex MacIsaac/CBC

"I have asked questions about ventilation and what's being done. We've been told that essentially everything's fine and they're doing what needs to be done," Arfken said.

"But we haven't had any concrete information about that."

Arfken said this type of information is being released by other universities. The University of Toronto, for example, released a strategy in July for maintaining air quality in its buildings through heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

"I'd like to hear more than simply that they take our concerns seriously and they're doing everything they can," he said.

UPEI response

In an email sent to all faculty and staff at UPEI, the university said there are several strategies in place to ensure health and safety standards are met. That includes mechanical ventilation and natural ventilation through windows, shutters and louvres.

Alex MacIsaac/CBC
Alex MacIsaac/CBC

These ventilation systems all meet or exceed standards for air exchange, UPEI said. The university's facilities management team conducts "regular and preventative maintenance" on ventilation, mechanical heating and air conditioning units, the email said.

UPEI also said in the email that employees can report air quality issues through the university's health, safety and environment department web page.

Issues with other P.E.I. schools

In April, Liberal MLA Gordon McNeilly raised concerns about air quality in Island schools.

In an email statement to CBC News, P.E.I.'s Department of Education and Lifelong Learning said it will roll out its back to school plans in regards to COVID-19 and air ventilation in the coming weeks. The department said it is working to get federal funding to improve ventilation, including in the 10 Island schools that do not have mechanical ventilation.

"While we are not concerned about the ventilation methods available within our schools in respect to the spread of COVID, we recognize that the opportunity to improve our ventilation systems is an opportunity we should take," the statement said.

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