Written answers

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Department of Education and Skills

Air Quality

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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262. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the total amount spent to date of the €62 million allocation for HEPA filters in schools. [12138/23]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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Managing ventilation is one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe.

Updated guidance for schools on Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools was provided in 2021 following the work of an expert group that carefully considered the role of ventilation in managing COVID-19.

The updated guidance for schools is also fully in line with the most recent guidance on non-healthcare building ventilation during COVID-19, published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in January 2022 and general advice on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in non-healthcare settings published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in May 2022.

The Expert Group established by the Minister for Health note, in its report published in April 2021, that very good advice is contained in the Department of Education’s Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools. They also note that it must be emphasised that ventilation should be delivered as part of a layered strategy of protective measures to control the spread of viruses. Along with these preventative actions, ventilation further reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

The Expert Group guidance outlines that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitors can play a part in providing a useful general indication that areas/rooms may not be adequately ventilated. My Department have funded and delivered in excess of 42,000 monitors to schools nationwide at a cost of over €4 million.

The Expert Group guidance also identifies that in areas with poor ventilation, structural interventions and measures to increase natural ventilation should be completed and if not possible in the short term, that consideration should be given to using stand-alone HEPA filter devices in poorly ventilated spaces pending the completion of structural interventions.

As noted in my Department’s Guidance where the recommended measures in the Practical Steps have been considered and poor ventilation continues to exist in a particular room/area, air cleaners may be considered as an additional measure in conjunction with other methods of ventilation that are available.

To provide additional support in the context of Covid-19 the payment of a minor works grant totalling €45m for primary schools and special schools, plus a once-off Covid-19 minor works funding of €17m for post-primary schools, was issued in December 2021. Schools used this money for a variety of purposes, including investment in ventilation systems. However the Department does not hold information in this regard.

Schools that identify inadequate ventilation in a room can utilise the minor work grant (for minor improvements) or apply for emergency works grant assistance to address ventilation enhancements on a permanent basis. A dedicated team has been established in the Department to support schools that may have concerns about ventilation.

To date 35 schools have applied for additional funding under the emergency works scheme to assist with ventilation. Of these, 24 have been approved, 2 were incorrectly classified as ventilation-related and assessed separately, 7 were rejected as the application form was not fully completed and 2 are waiting for the schools to revert with further information. None of these applications were for the funding of HEPA filters and contact was made with each of the schools who had applications rejected to advise them how best to proceed.

In conclusion, my Department is fully aware of the importance of good ventilation in schools. Our approach, as part of a layered strategy of protective measures to control the spread of the virus, is fully consistent with the Expert Group recommendations on good practices, the use of portable carbon dioxide monitors and the targeted deployment of HEPA air filter devices where necessary for poorly ventilated areas. However, it is important to note that air cleaners do not remove carbon dioxide. The best way to reduce carbon dioxide levels in a room is to dilute it with fresh air.


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