Address Indoor Air Quality in Ontario Schools - An Open Letter to the Ontario Government
Ontario School Safety
6D-7398 Yonge S
Thornhill, ON L4J 8J2
August 10th, 2023
To: The Provincial Government of Ontario
℅ Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health
Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education
Sylvia Jones, Minister of Health
Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour
Kinga Surma, Minister of Infrastructure
Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation
Dear government officials,
The start of the school year is just around the corner and we at Ontario School Safety (OSS) are again asking you to make sure we have a safe September — with safe and healthy school buildings and buses.
Ventilation and filtration in school buildings and buses are our first lines of defence against air pollution and infectious diseases. If students are required to attend school under the Ontario Education Act, then the Ontario government is responsible for providing a safe and healthy environment — including clean air. We’re having a terrible wildfire season in Canada, which occurs every year between April and October. Our wildfire seasons are only getting longer due to the ongoing climate crisis. This is having a disastrous effect on outdoor air quality — and ventilation systems brought that polluted air into school buildings province-wide this past June.
Outside air gets cleaned when it flows through the filtration system that captures harmful substances. Wildfires often happen as we experience extreme heat events. Since many Ontario classrooms don’t have air conditioning, educators are forced to choose between being too hot, or having clean air to breathe — because opening a window is their only option, and that air doesn’t go through any filtration system.
School buildings in Ontario currently are not capable of completely cleaning the air of wildfire smoke, bacteria, and viruses that cause illness. The impacts of this inability will negatively affect education workers and students alike.
Wildfire smoke is dangerous for everyone, but Health Canada states that it’s more dangerous for kids , whose airways are smaller. Wildfire smoke contains tiny pieces of pollution which damage our lungs directly while also making it much harder to fight off things like colds, influenza, COVID, RSV, and strep A [2,3,4]. We know these infections spread in the air that we breathe, so we need to make sure our filtration systems are capable of taking them out.
The combination of wildfire smoke and infectious disease risk is why professional engineering organizations like the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) [5,6] and the Ontario Society for Professional Engineers (OSPE)  are recommending improved indoor air quality standards. This means improving ventilation and filtration systems in buildings to significantly decrease the spread of disease  and to remove the fine pieces of pollution that damage the lungs of students and education workers.
Last fall, Ontario students were hit hard by the “tripledemic” of flu, RSV, and COVID-19. This year’s tripledemic season is predicted to be worse as a result of wildfire smoke exposure and a failure to make the changes needed to avoid it . If last year’s tripledemic led to the near-collapse of healthcare systems nationwide, then we should be doing everything in our power to improve indoor air quality in schools to make sure it doesn’t happen again this year in Ontario.
Remember, absences due to illness reached an all-time high last year for both students and education workers. If you continue to do nothing to clean the air in time for this year’s tripledemic season, we can expect that number to be even higher.
Absence from school causes a lot of disruption for students — they miss time in class and they lose out on a consistent teacher managing their education. It also disrupts our workforce. Parents are forced to take more time off work to take care of their sick kids and teens miss shifts at needed part-time jobs. School boards are under enormous strain to cover sick days for education workers. Everyone suffers when we continue to do nothing about improving indoor air quality in Ontario schools.
Recently, the Ontario government made a significant investment into the Queen’s Park infrastructure by updating its ventilation and filtration systems. We believe that Ontario students and education workers should be at least as safe inside schools as you are in Queen’s Park.
We want the Ontario government to: assess the indoor air quality in Ontario schools, improve infrastructure where necessary, and monitor the effectiveness of those improvements.
We need you to work with qualified, licensed engineers/technicians to conduct full air quality assessments of Ontario classrooms, portables, and buses. Infrastructure improvements should then be made based on those recommendations and other expert advice. Finally, we need to make sure those investments stay effective by monitoring indoor air quality, and providing that information to the public.
While that is underway there are things you can do now to make sure we have a safer September:
Allow communities to donate air quality monitoring tools and affordable air cleaners like Corsi-Rosenthal boxes.
Make sure the HEPA units already purchased by your government are being used and used properly. 
Support Canadian manufacturers of CAN-95/N-95-grade masks by providing them to those who need them. 
We need you, as our government, to do everything it takes, as quickly as possible, to clean the air in schools for our students and education workers. We’re asking the Ontario government to provide a safe September and prove to parents — with evidence — that schools have been made to keep students and education workers safe from things like wildfire smoke and infectious diseases. We have the tools. Now is the time to prioritize indoor air quality. Our kids can’t wait.
Chair of the Board
Ontario School Safety
Health Canada. Wildfire smoke 101: Wildfire smoke and your health [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Aug 4]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/healthy-living/wildfire-smoke-health.html
How Wildfire Smoke Raises Infectious Disease Risk [Internet]. The Scientist Magazine®. [cited 2023 Jul 19]. Available from: https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/how-wildfire-smoke-raises-infectious-disease-risk-69166
Landguth EL, Holden ZA, Graham J, Stark B, Mokhtari EB, Kaleczyc E, et al. The delayed effect of wildfire season particulate matter on subsequent influenza season in a mountain west region of the USA. Environment International [Internet]. 2020 Jun 1 [cited 2023 Jul 20];139:105668. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019326935
Gao Y, Huang W, Yu P, Xu R, Yang Z, Gasevic D, et al. Long-term impacts of non-occupational wildfire exposure on human health: A systematic review. Environmental Pollution [Internet]. 2023 Mar 1 [cited 2023 Aug 3];320:121041. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S026974912300043X
ASHRAE. ASHRAE 241-2023 Control of Infectious Aerosols [Internet]. Available from: https://www.techstreet.com/ashrae/standards/ashrae-241-2023?product_id=2567398
Forgione L. OSPE Supports Adoption of ASHRAE Standard 241 in the Canadian National Building Code • Ontario Society of Professional Engineers [Internet]. Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. 2023 [cited 2023 Jul 17]. Available from: https://ospe.on.ca/advocacy/ospe-supports-adoption-of-ashrae-standard-241-in-the-canadian-national-building-code/
Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. Core Recommendations for Safer Indoor Air [Internet]. Ontario Society of Professional Engineers; 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 21]. Available from: https://ospe.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Safer_Indoor_Air_Nov22_Final.pdf