April 14, 2021

Opinion: Indoor air quality can affect health

Originally posted on www.bizjournals.com

Last summer, 239 scientists sent an open letter to the World Health Organization calling the agency to address airborne transmission of Covid-19. The agency, despite being well intentioned, was lagging behind the science.

The virus, the experts said, can be carried aloft both by large droplets from coughs and sneezes that immediately fall to the floor, and by droplets 10,000 times smaller than a human hair that can travel up to 30 feet and be suspended in the air for hours. While evidence for the virus lingering in indoor air was mounting quickly, the agency remained unconvinced.

It’s normal for public policy to lag behind the best available science. Remember how long it took to rid buildings of asbestos? But this time around, we simply don’t have the time to wait for public policy to affirm what the science already proves. Indoor air pollution can be two to five times worse than outdoor air, according to the EPA.

The importance of clean air and ventilation has been known for decades. We can no longer afford to ignore such an essential component of defending against virus transmission.

Making matters worse, the United States is a country of aging buildings. In 2012, the median age of the commercial building stock nationwide was 32 years, according to the Energy Information Administration. In 2021, this has not changed. Our infrastructure was designed to be energy efficient, which has a very important implication for indoor air quality: air, whether hot or cold, is kept inside as much as possible by insulation. Recirculating inadequately filtered or ventilated air makes indoor air more dangerous.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. Facilities and building administrators can, and often do, upgrade existing HVAC configurations, but this is only part of the solution

To make things more complicated, every building, ranging from 10 to 150 years old, has different capabilities. Some buildings will be able to upgrade their HVAC systems to increase air changes per hour, improve filtration and get more outdoor air. Other buildings don’t even have HVAC units at all.

So then what?

We can look to professional – not consumer grade – portable, medical HEPA and UVC to help address inadequate ventilation and indoor air safety.

A professional air cleaning system, whether it’s portable or built-in, will change the air at least six times an hour. In extremely crowded environments, more systems may be needed to achieve appropriate air changes per hour. For infection control at hospitals, the air is changed at least 12 times an hour.

What people think about indoor air quality matters a whole lot more now than it ever has. Getting people to return to work also requires that we demonstrate safe conditions. Air purifiers are visible measures that say, “We’re doing everything we can to keep you safe.”

Cleaning indoor air is the next, common-sense hygiene habit – like hand washing – that we urgently need to adopt.

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