Carbon dioxide monitors ‘flying off the shelves’ after 2 Metro Vancouver libraries st…


Two Metro Vancouver libraries say there has been astronomical demand for carbon dioxide monitors after they began stocking them last month.

The tiny monitors, designed by Latvian company Aranet, update with the amount of carbon dioxide in the air every few minutes, measured in parts per million (ppm).

Not only is carbon dioxide a measure of indoor air quality — with poor air quality shown to impact learning outcomes and brain activity — it can also be a reflection of the amount of infectious aerosols in the air, particularly relevant given airborne diseases like COVID-19.

That’s why the West Vancouver Memorial Library (WVML) and the North Vancouver District Public Library (NVDPL) — both on Metro Vancouver’s North Shore — began stocking them at the start of November.

A person holds up a portable device with the reading '682', signifying carbon dioxide concentration in parts per million.
According to retired emergency physician Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a reading of under 800 parts per million of carbon dioxide is considered a safe threshold for indoor spaces. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“This is just a perfect example of us being able to respond to our community,” said Michelle Yule, head of collections at WVML. “We heard people asking for CO2 monitors and, obviously, I think that’s because of the COVID-19 pandemic and more awareness about air quality.

“Ours have been checked out the whole time that we’ve had them.”

The WVML and NVDPL stock nine and 15 carbon dioxide kits, respectively, packed inside carrying cases with instructions.

In North Vancouver, demand was so high that the library had to double the number of available kits after the first few weeks.

“They’re literally flying off the shelves,” said Krista Scanlon, manager of collection services at NVDPL. 

“We launched with seven devices, but based on the popularity, we’ve already added an additional eight just to try to keep up with the community interest.”

A carrying case with the words 'CO2 Monitor Kit' sits next to a small device with numbers on its face.
The carbon dioxide monitors stocked by the North Shore libraries come in carrying cases with enclosed instructions and tips. (Submitted by North Vancouver District Public Library)

Scanlon said the library was inspired to stock the monitors after libraries in Peterborough, Ont. and Toronto both began stocking the devices earlier this year.

In the NVDPL’s case, a government grant helped cover the approximate $280 cost per kit.

Monitors are available from both the WVML and NVDPL for cardholders, with the programs starting at the libraries during the first week of November.

Equitable access to technology

Along with the carbon dioxide monitors, the WVPL also began stocking light therapy lamps for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

Yule says the range of non-book items available at public libraries — from iPods to language learning kits and instruments — shows how much they serve the public good.

A blonde woman holds up a tiny device with numbers on its face.
Michelle Yule, from the West Vancouver Memorial Library, said the library has also begun stocking light therapy lamps in addition to carbon dioxide monitors. (CBC)

“We’re able to provide equitable access to technologies like this that perhaps members of the community could not otherwise afford,” Scanlon said.

Scanlon also pointed to the library stocking radon test kits as another example of how they were meeting community needs.

The two North Shore libraries are currently the only major libraries in B.C. to lend out carbon dioxide monitors.

Indicator of airborne viruses

Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a retired emergency physician and member of Protect Our Province B.C., says all libraries in the province should stock the devices.

“CO2 is, if you want, a surrogate marker for the quality of the ventilation in a space,” she said. 

“You can imagine the more people in a tight, crowded space, the higher the CO2 … when we’re breathing, we’re releasing CO2, and potentially, if there’s an infected person, we’re releasing aerosol laden with SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Filiatrault says that other jurisdictions like Washington state and Belgium have enacted rules mandating the use of CO2 monitors in public spaces as a form of mitigation against airborne viruses.

Generally, Filiatrault says outdoor environments have a CO2 reading of around 400 ppm, while indoor environments are safer under 800 ppm. She said people should look to introduce more outdoor air if they get high readings on their CO2 monitors.

Filiatrault says carbon dioxide monitors were “one tool” in COVID mitigation efforts and that it should be combined with good air filtration and other measures like universal masking, which she acknowledged might have costs attached.

“But look at the cost of having so many people sick right now. What is that costing?” she asked.

CBC News asked the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) and Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) systems if they would consider stocking carbon dioxide monitors.

“VPL does not currently have any plans to add carbon dioxide monitors to our collections,” said a VPL spokesperson in an email. “We have had very few requests from patrons to consider adding devices such as these.”

A spokesperson for the GVPL pointed to the library stocking climate action kits that help people test for air leaks and measure electricity use, among other things.

“Carbon dioxide monitors are not currently part of these kits, but the library is open to adding new components in the future,” the spokesperson said. 2022-12-03 14:00:00


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