Allentown, Pa., schools are still distance learning, but when students and staff return to classrooms, they will be protected by a new technology that helps filtration systems capture viruses and render them inactive.
Like school districts across the country, the Allentown, Pa., district is awaiting the go-ahead to return to in-person learning. But while it waits, the district is also taking measures to ensure a healthier student body and staff by deploying an emergency technology called needlepoint bipolar ionization.
The technology works by sending positive and negative ions from the devices through the air ducts; those particles merge with particles in the air, making larger particles that are easier to capture by filters. Also, when a virus is present, the charged ions pull hydrogen from the outer “coats” of the shell of the virus, rendering it inactive.
Manufactured by Global Plasma Solutions, it's still considered an emerging technology by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but has been tested by an independent laboratory, which found that the devices inactivated 99.4 percent of viral particles in the air after 30 minutes.
“The thing that gave us some confidence was that there are a lot of emerging technologies out there like UV and things of that nature, and we didn’t have a safe feeling with any of those,” said Tom Smith, Allentown School District director of facilities.
“The technology safely creates and releases ions into the building’s air stream using our existing HVAC systems, and as those ions are dispersed into space, they form bonds with particles in the air,” Smith said. “Essentially, those particles begin to cluster and get bigger and make it easier for us to catch via our filters.”
Smith said he did extensive research and though he found no other school districts around the country using the tech, he felt the investment to help make students healthier was worth it. “You do a lot of research before spending $2 million," he explained. "The other thing is, we have a student population of more than 17,000 and a lot of students have asthma and this will certainly reduce those airborne particles that trigger asthma.”
The devices will be placed in all of the district’s 30 buildings. The money comes from CARES Act federal funding, which was a little more than $2 million.
“We’ve done a lot of things with the money,” Smith said. “We have 30 buildings and some of them go back to 1874. A lot of our buildings are in need of a lot of repair.”
Allentown is a large, urban school district, one of 500 in Pennsylvania, and has accrued over the years a lot of mechanical deficiencies among its buildings. “We just had a feasibility study done, which makes us eligible for reimbursement when we do improvements,” Smith said. “Every dollar counts.”
The district is also updating its HVAC systems and has also replaced traditional water fountains with touchless hydration solutions that fill water bottles, and is creating isolation rooms to be used for anyone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
“So in addition to everything else, we’ve identified these isolation rooms, and this grant affords us the ability to put in filters in the HVAC units to turn what would be a normal room into a negative-pressure room, which makes it a true isolation room,” Smith said.