• Stuart Benson

‘Ridiculous testing protocol’

Education minister is accused of misleading public about CO2 testing

The Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge is being accused of misleading the public about receiving Public Health’s approval for the recent air quality testing conducted in the province's classrooms this winter.


According to documents obtained by Radio Canada, sources within the province's public health organizations reveal that the methods behind the testing were never endorsed by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) nor the General Directorate of Public Health (DGSP) — the latter expressing dissatisfaction that the ministry had stated the DGSP had validated the protocols.


Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge is being accused of misleading the public about receiving Public Health’s approval for the recent air quality testing conducted in the province's classrooms this winter, including measuring CO2 levels at 14 out of the WQSB’s 30 schools and service centres. Only three measurements of the 56 classrooms tested above 1,500 ppm before windows were opened including one at St. Michael's High School in Low. Low Down file photo
Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge is being accused of misleading the public about receiving Public Health’s approval for the recent air quality testing conducted in the province's classrooms this winter, including measuring CO2 levels at 14 out of the WQSB’s 30 schools and service centres. Only three measurements of the 56 classrooms tested above 1,500 ppm before windows were opened including one at St. Michael's High School in Low. Low Down file photo

However, not only did the DGSP not give its approval to the methodology, it said it was only given one day to consult on the methodology, which it found inadequate according to Radio Canada’s reporting on April 1. Moreover, the DGSP said it did not receive a response to its recommendations before the directive was sent to schools, and found its criticisms had been ignored.


On Feb. 3, The Low Down reported on the ministry mandated testing that had taken place at schools in the Western Quebec School Board. The testing saw four classrooms in 14 of the 30 schools and adult education training centres tested for carbon dioxide levels at the beginning of a lesson; then again, halfway through the period; and, finally, 20 minutes after opening the windows in the classroom.


The optimal CO2 concentration level, according to the ministry’s methodology, is 1,000 parts per million, and this level should not be exceeded before the beginning of the period or after windows have been opened for 20 minutes. The ministry considered 1,500 ppm of CO2 the maximum for “acceptable levels.”


Only three measurements of the 56 classrooms tested above 1,500 ppm before windows were opened: a classroom at Lord Aylmer Elementary, one at Pontiac High School, and another at St. Michael’s High School in Low. However, all three measurements had fallen back under the 1,000 ppm level by the end of the class after the windows had been opened.


Following this reporting, Andrew Henry, a building science researcher in Chelsea with a bachelor of science in human kinetics and physiology, submitted a Valley Voices column to The Low Down, which ran in the March 17 edition. In it, he criticized the methodology, calling the ministry’s testing “unrealistic.”


In his column, Henry specifically criticized the carbon dioxide levels, which the ministry argued were acceptable. He cited a University of Boulder, Colorado, study that states a CO2 level in a classroom below 700 ppm is considered an acceptable risk, whereas at 800 ppm the room is unsafe, as about one per cent of the air in the room has already been exhaled by students. According to the study, ambient outdoor CO2 levels sit around 400 ppm.


Henry spoke with The Low Down after the Radio Canada report was released, and said the news wasn’t surprising.


“It was a ridiculous testing protocol,” Henry said, explaining that he believed the protocol seemed designed to produce a predetermined result. “It was designed so that they wouldn't have to buy air filtration systems.”


Henry said that keeping the level of CO2 classrooms low is especially important when fighting the spread of an airborne virus like COVID-19.


In a tweet on April 1, Minister Roberge addressed the allegations.


“I want to rectify the facts: Public Health and the INSPQ have been consulted and have commented on the protocols for testing CO2 levels in our schools. We incorporated all of their comments before sending the directive,” Roberge wrote.