AS PUPILS and students are set to return for the new autumn term, the Welsh Government has announced a new investment in technology to improve air quality and quickly disinfect classrooms, lecture theatres and workshops.
Funding for more than 1,800 ozone disinfecting machines and over 30,000 CO2 sensors will be provided for schools, colleges, and universities throughout Wales.
£3.31m will be provided for new ozone disinfecting machines, to reduce cleaning times, improve disinfection and reduce costs. The funding is expected to supply more than 1,800 machines, at least one for every school, college, and university in Wales.
The time and cost of cleaning rooms were identified as an issue for schools and colleges early in the pandemic.
To address the issue, the Welsh Government asked Swansea University to establish an Ozone Classroom Decontamination Project, backed by Welsh Government funding.
Scientists at the university have developed an Ozone disinfecting machine, now in production, which can be deployed for this task.
The machines can be used to quickly disinfect classrooms when clusters of Covid-19 or other communicable viruses are identified, such as norovirus.
£2.58 m will be provided for over 30,000 CO2 ‘traffic light’ monitors, for teaching and learning spaces such as classrooms, seminar rooms or lecture halls.
CO2 monitors include sensors that provide a visual signal of deteriorating internal air quality.
The monitors will alert teachers and lecturers when CO2 levels rise, notifying them when air quality needs to improve, thereby aiding the control of ventilation during the winter.
Those devices will help maintain comfortable temperatures for learners and staff during colder periods, reduce heat loss and save on energy costs.
The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, said: “I’m pleased learners can return to classrooms and lecture theatres this autumn with fewer restrictions in place than there have been for several months.
“This investment in CO2 monitors will help improve air quality, while the disinfecting machines will enable classrooms to return to normal use quicker.
“Both support our common goal of ensuring learners can continue learning together with their teachers and friends.
“But we must keep our guard up against Covid-19.
“These measures will complement, rather than replace our current advice – which includes ensuring hygiene is maintained and washing hands thoroughly and more often than usual.
Dr Chedly Tizaoui of Swansea University, part of the team who designed the ozone disinfection machine, said: “I am delighted that the ozone technology we developed at Swansea University will support efforts to eradicate Covid-19 in Wales.
“Reducing the spread of coronavirus in our educational institutions is vitally important, so our children and students can get back to the classroom.
“Ozone is potent against Covid-19 virus and due to its gaseous nature, it kills the virus whether be it airborne or adhered to a surface.
“Thanks to the support received from the Welsh Government and the Active Buildings pioneered by SPECIFIC, our research demonstrated that buildings can be Active on the inside and the ozone treatment developed here can be incorporated to support cleaning and disinfection of public buildings.
Rebecca Evans, the Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: “By investing in new technology such as ozone disinfecting machines, we’re ensuring learners can stay in their school and colleges as Wales moves beyond the pandemic.
Plaid Cymru’s education spokesperson Sian Gwenllian MS responded: “Scientific advice has long highlighted the importance of air quality in limiting coronavirus transmission – and we’ve been calling for more guidance and resources for schools, colleges, and universities on the subject of ventilation since last year.
“The provision of CO2 monitors to educational settings is welcome.
“It’s important that measures we use are in line with the latest scientific guidance and I urge Welsh Government to provide reassurance to educational settings on the use of devices such as ozone disinfectant systems.”
Ms Gwenellian claimed: “The use of ozone disinfecting machines is controversial to say the least, and we all need to be satisfied that Welsh Government is absolutely certain that they are a safe option before introducing them.”
The Shadow Minister for Education, Welsh Conservative Laura Anne Jones MS, echoed Sian Gwenllian’s concerns.:
Ms Jones told The Herald: “Anything that can be done to keep students in classrooms and minimise disruption is welcome, but using ozone disinfecting machines in schools raises some serious concerns.
“Spraying a toxic chemical in classrooms is a controversial move, and we need assurances from the Welsh Government that this is a safe thing to do.
Laura Anne Jones concluded: “I understand that nobody will be in the room when these machines are operating, but as ozone can damage the lungs if inhaled, we need confirmation of what robust measures are going to be put in place to stop someone coming into contact with it.”
Ozone gas is generated by electrical discharge — the breakdown of chemical compounds into their elements using electric current. During this process, oxygen molecules are reconstructed in the form of ozone molecules.
You will often detect it in the characteristic ‘tang’ of sea air or after an electrical storm.
Ozone inactivates the Covid virus, making it inert and harmless.
In high concentrations, ozone is lethal to humans. However, the Health and Safety Executive – in conjunction with the UK’s public health bodies – has approved the use of ozone misting as long as appropriate risk assessments are carried out and safe operating practices are followed.
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