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Air Purifiers That Cost Millions Removed From Sacramento City Unified Classrooms For Testing

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – The Sacramento City Unified School District has spent millions of dollars on air purifiers that have now been removed from classrooms for safety testing.

Sacramento City Teachers Association President David Fischer said the association raised concerns over the $6 million spent on the air purifiers meant to make schools safer for reopening. The association was skeptical about just how safe the devices were.

"For whatever reason, they chose not to and to just move forward," Fischer said.

Back in November, the board voted to spend more than $6 million in CARES act money on the air purifiers stating they are "the best technology for mitigating COVID-19 at a fraction of the cost of other compatible portable filtration devices...the COVID-19 virus is destroyed using an ultraviolet-c light instead of trapping the virus in a filter."

Fischer said according to experts, the devices haven't been backed by science.

"We had been communicating with and they said that is very likely a waste of money that hasn't been peer-reviewed and the science on those are not sound," Fischer said.

So why did the Sacramento City Unified go through with the purchase? According to the district, the association communicated their concerns in December after the purchase was already approved and in the same month CARES act funding was set to expire.

The district said with concerns over the units' efficacy and safety, they've been pulled to be assessed.

"We are taking the extra steps to independently test these units to gather additional analyses," said Tara Gallegos, chief communications officer with the district.

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"This was just a decision that didn't have to be made and it was a setback that was avoidable, but here we are and we have to figure out a way to move forward," said Fischer.

The district plans to have testing complete as soon as next week and said it will let the community know what the next steps will be.

The district said in a statement:

In response to concerns about air quality, we chose to go above and beyond the guidance from the California Department of Public Health for reopening schools and looked for ways that we could address any virus exposure within our classrooms. We've also urged state leaders to provide us with common standards for reopening, to help us best meet these challenges

As part of our commitment to protecting families, we selected a portable air purification system that provides two layers of filtration for particulate matter, as well as a UVC technology that could address the virus (which is not measured through the Clean Air Delivery Rate). The manufacturers of the product stand behind the effectiveness and safety of their product.  

Our board approved the purchase on Nov. 5 because we used restricted federal COVID relief funding to pay for these units as we were required at that time to make the purchase by December 31.

At that time, we were unsure of whether we would receive additional funding but recognized the urgency in addressing air quality within our classrooms. In addition to using these units, we are also replacing HVAC air filters with the highest-rated filters available and reprogramming those systems to run continuously and bring outside air in.  

Since October we have operated Learning Hubs at 13 school sites and seen no evidence of COVID-19 transmissions on campus, in part, due to the strict health and safety protocols we already have in place.

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