Company tracks air circulation, ventilation in buildings
By George Avalos | Bay Area News Group | December 22, 2021
A SafeTraces technician sets up air samplers to verify indoor air safety in the food court of Eastridge Center in San Jose. SafeTraces hopes to lend an assist to the wide-ranging battle against the coronavirus by deploying aerosol-based technologies to identify risky buildings imperiled by hazardous air circulation.
PLEASANTON — SafeTraces hopes to lend an assist to the wide-ranging battle against the coronavirus by deploying aerosol-based technologies to identify risky buildings imperiled by hazardous air circulation.
The biotech company’s liquid aerosol system uses DNA markers and software analysis to help property owners determine whether poor ventilation and air circulation might be allowing virus-like particles to remain in the air inside a building and its rooms.
“This technology is a way to learn if a room or an entire building is safe,” said Erik Malmstrom, chief executive officer of SafeTraces. “That is what everyone wants to know. We provide that answer.”
When the liquid aerosols are sprayed into the air, SafeTraces uses DNA markers in the droplets to track how they are circulating in a room and whether the air is being refreshed — changed — frequently enough to ensure that the building and its rooms are operating safely.
The United States, California and the Bay Area are battling to recover from the economic devastation unleashed by wide-ranging business shutdowns that government agencies imposed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Among the huge uncertainties that loom over the economy: How safe is it for workers to return to the office, for shoppers to return to malls and movie theaters, for fans to return to concerts and sporting events?
“Polls clearly show widespread public anxiety about facility safety from offices to schools to retail locations,” Malmstrom said.
These are vital questions to answer, said Gary Dillabough, a busy Bay Area developer and commercial property owner who is especially active in downtown San Jose.
“We have to create better and safer environments for people to return to,” said Dillabough, a principal executive with Urban Community, a real estate firm that has teamed up with global developer Westbank on several major projects in downtown San Jose. “SafeTraces has the technology to help bring that about.”
Much of the concern over the coronavirus has been focused on the contamination of surfaces by the pathogen.
Malmstrom and Dillabough point out, however, that a key vector for the spread of the deadly bug is through virus-laced droplets that can remain in the air for hours and travel well beyond six feet.
The anxiety over enclosed spaces is fueled by the reality that the dangerous microorganisms can’t be seen, by definition, and viruses are traveling on paths that also can’t be seen.
“Air is invisible, but we help building owners to see the invisible,” Malmstrom said.
Pleasanton-based SafeTraces says its software-supported and aerosol-based system can provide precise analysis about how air is flowing through a building, whether that air is being changed sufficiently and what might be done to address any hazards within the structure.
During the current holiday shopping season, Eastridge Center in San Jose has turned to SafeTraces to ensure that the shopping mall meets top safety standards for indoor air and ventilation systems.
Eastridge is the first shopping center in the nation to undergo verification and assessment by SafeTraces, according to Pacific Retail Capital Partners, one of the principal owners of Eastridge Center.
“We are solidifying our commitment to ensure that our visitors can have a high degree of trust and confidence in a safe shopping experience at our retail locations,” said Najla Kayyem, senior vice president of marketing with Pacific Retail Capital.
The SafeTraces technology and software analysis is advanced enough that it can analyze a room of 1,000 square feet within two hours, according to the company.
The biotech firm says it can assess the playing surface and the seating areas of the SAP Center in downtown San Jose within a day.
“Companies and real estate operators are going to have to get over that bar to prove that their spaces are safe,” Dillabough said.