Smoke Affecting Indoor Air Filters

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MEDFORD, Ore. — It’s clean halls and clean air at South Medford High on Friday, but it might not stay that way for long.

South Medford High is preparing to host several Britt Festival concerts this weekend due to the smoke, but officials with the school say while the air quality is fine for a concert or two now, it could become a serious problem as hundreds of students fill up the halls.

Most commercial buildings in Oregon are built for efficiency. When it’s too hot inside or there’s too much carbon dioxide, a unit will let in fresh air from the outside. The problem is, right now, the air is not so fresh.

“We’re going to be watching really closely over this next month before kids come back to see what happens,” said Phil Long, the Superintendent Medford Public Schools

School ventilation systems use outside air to regulate temperature and breathability. As more bodies fill up space, more air is needed.

“When you get a large number of people in a facility you have to bring in more fresh air because of their breathing and everything,” said Superintendent Long.

It’s the same situation at just about any public building, thanks to a unit called the economizer. That unit is required on large commercial systems because using outside air to cool is more efficient.

“Now it’s a liability because of the smoke. Who knew that this was going to get this thick and this long,” said Ray Figueira the owner of Alpha Heating and Air Conditioning.

Experts say filters simply can’t handle the smoke and while re-circulating.

“It’s not the healthiest, it’s nice to get fresh air coming into the building… when we get fresh air again,” Figueira says.

Now public buildings are scrambling to have their economizers disabled. It’s a legal grey area, but experts they don’t know what else to do.

“I’m getting major complaints,” Figueira said. “I’ve got medical clinics where people are wearing masks inside because it’s so smoky inside.”

As for South Medford High, their economizer is still running, and they don’t know how bad it will get until the halls fill, but don’t plan for cancelled classes. They say a lot of homes aren’t much better.

“Our school facilities, because we’ve been able to modernize and renovate them, are going to be the safer place for kids to be during the day,” said the Superintendent.

Bypassing these economizers right here does do the trick for now, but once the smoke clears then comes the next part is getting them back up and running.