Willow Glen combat veteran battles COVID with brand-new technology

Written by William Bellou

Willow Glen resident Erik Malmstrom’s new business endeavor has major implications for the future of public safety in the era of COVID-19. Malmstrom, in his quest to create a better, safer, more sustainable world…

Building for the Future

Featuring: SafeTraces, Inc., CannonDesign, Ghent, 3M

by Halee Miller | Sep 30, 2021

Back to school usually means the changing of leaves, constant running to sports practices, and hours shopping for that one particular bookbag with your child’s favorite cartoon character on the back. In the last, almost two years however, back to school has looked differently for everyone.

Earlier this month, Forum by Mortarr’s Editor-in-Chief, Jen Levisen, facilitated a conversation between leaders in the education sector from design, product manufacturing, and building health and data science. All of these areas rely on one another to create safe education environments.

Meet the Panel

GMi Companies, 3M, SafeTraces, Inc., and CannonDesign gathered together to discuss what designing for sustainability and safe spaces in the education sector means.

GMi Companies is the parent brand of Ghent, Waddell, and VividBoard — all brands in visual communication and display products. GMi’s Director of Marketing, Susan Claus, recognized the company’s commitment to sustainability, being manufactured in the USA, and their seriousness about their environmental responsibility.

3M is more than just Scotch tape and Post-it notes — they take pride in their sustainable cleaning solutions in the education sector. Segment Marketing Manager, Ben Oberle, said that 3M cares about more than just producing a product, they focus on keeping students and their families safe through their work in the education sector.

SafeTraces, Inc., is a DNA-powered safety technology company that has a focus in indoor air quality, ventilation, and filtration assessment. CEO, Erik Malmstrom, said their products aid schools to more accurately target their safety efforts and spend their money more wisely.

Rounding out the panel, Eric Corey Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sustainability at CannonDesign, brought an architect’s perspective to sustainability in education spaces. CannonDesign is a top 10 architecture firm that brings an outcome-based approach to the architecture industry — designing for just what the client needs.

Why does it matter?

What do architecture and design have to do with our future’s education? Well, according to Freed, quite a bit.

“If we do our job properly, for an educational space, we can boost student test scores, we can boost cognitive performance, we can make them feel at ease, we can have stress reduction, we can improve staff retention rates,” said Freed.

All of the possible outcomes Freed mentioned are measurable and quantifiable outcomes that can be designed for. This is the outcome-based approach that CannonDesign takes in all of their projects. They ask their clients what outcomes mean most to them, and design for those particular goals.

Not only is design important for learning and retention efforts, but also sustainability.

“About half of our carbon emissions come from the design, operation, and construction of buildings, so if we’re going to solve the climate crisis, we have to change how we design and build our buildings,” said Freed.

Certifications — do they matter?

Project certifications like LEED and WELL, and product certifications like LEVEL, are sought-after sustainable achievements in the commercial construction + design industry. What matters most, however, is not just the title of the certification, but the why behind it.

LEVEL by BIFMA is a commercial furniture certification that is only awarded to products that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible. As noted by Claus, filling a space with LEVEL-certified products contributes to notable sustainable building ratings, including LEED and WELL certifications. GMi’s products are LEVEL 2 certified, proof of their efforts toward a more sustainable world.

Keep the space clean.

3M plays an important role in the safety of students in the midst of a global pandemic. As a manufacturer of cleaning products, they were asked to do more than just produce, but also educate on how to clean correctly and sustainably.

“How do we, as a manufacturer, help them?” Oberle said when discussing the recent pandemic’s long-lasting effects on schools and their staff.

Health and safety goes a lot farther than just cleaning surfaces. Ensuring clean air for the students and faculty to breathe in each day is just as important, if not more.

“Indoor environments that we live and work in, and go to school in, are responsible for helping spread viruses,” said Malmstrom.

SafeTraces has a tool to help people make better design decisions with a focus on health and safety by providing real world data. Health and safety goes even further by having a huge impact on the building’s sustainability, said Malmstrom. Carbon footprint, energy penalties, and cost penalties all need to be balanced with the level of safety efforts needed at the time. Knowing your space’s data helps the built environment make informed decisions about their ventilation system and the price tag that comes with it.

What’s changed?

Throughout the pandemic, Corey Freed said that the architecture of the education sector hasn’t changed, but the mechanical systems have.

“It’s been much more about cleaning protocols, operations, and ventilation more than anything,” said Corey Freed, “and those things are really all you need.”

It’s all about the end user.

From the product side, Oberle and Claus said that keeping sustainability at the forefront of their company is all about conversation with end users and what they need most.

Claus asked her husband, who’s a high school teacher, what sustainability means to him in his classroom. He replied with needing warranties and wanting something that’s going to last.

“When looking for something that is sustainable, you don’t want to have to continually replace something,” said Claus, “if you have to replace it in a year or two, what are we really doing here?”

Oberle said that facility directors play a huge role in the building and its health and safety. 3M encourages those facility directors that clean the building to be involved in the conversation of the building size, space, and materials used.

“Be at that table with your experience of previous buildings, know what you’re getting into, know what those decisions are,” said Oberle.

Besides masking and vaccinations, Malmstrom said that air quality and ventilation is just as important, if not more, than those things.

“Using data to have targeted interventions in the building that are actually going to help make it healthier and safer and do that in a sustainable and cost efficient way, and then in an environmentally sustainable way, too,” said Malmstrom.

Looking to the future.

Claus said that GMi is about getting in front of their end users, dealers, architects, and designers to have conversations about what GMi as a manufacturer can do with their products in the future. Hearing from the end users helps guide them in what they need most.

When talking to customers, Oberle said 3M is concerned about what is coming next, like preparing for the cold and flu season.

“Where are you going and how can you do it quicker and more effectively than what you’re doing today?” said Oberle about 3M’s approach to evolving with each new challenge.

From the air quality, to material transparency, to cleaning products, and the building structure itself, it takes an entire industry to make schools safe and healthy spaces.

This article originally appeared on Forum by Mortarr. Read it here.

The Energy Penalty of Safer Indoor Air

The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change has placed a heavy burden on HVAC systems to modernize and become energy efficient.

by Erik Malmstrom and Aaron Lapsley | Sep 28, 2021

Engineers regularly encounter significant trade-offs in the design and operation of mechanical systems and equipment. In many design situations, not addressing trade-offs means not optimizing the system. However, trade-offs become murkier for engineering under two key conditions as projects move from individual components to a complex and the design stage to real-world operations. Combine these conditions, and trade-offs often become much less evident in aggregate. This nexus of complex systems in the real world is where the HVAC industry usually operates.

The global pandemic has thrust the HVAC discipline of mechanical engineering into upheaval. In 2019, HVAC professionals in commercial, institutional, and public buildings were focused mainly on delivering comfortable temperatures and system performance in a cost-effective, energy-efficient way. That changed in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ).

Ventilation is top of mind, and the guidance of public health officials and academics is taken seriously by engineers. However, in the summer of 2021, another big topic appeared increasingly in the news: disasters from human-caused climate change. Engineers, traditionally laser-focused on reducing energy consumption, are now tasked with making the air in buildings safer while achieving sustainability goals like energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.

This is usually framed as a conundrum resulting from a direct trade-off: improved air quality equals increased energy consumption. For certain changes to specific HVAC system components, this is inarguably true. However, we argue that the overall “energy penalty” for making IAQ improvements in practical systems is generally overstated.

Let’s frame the energy penalty in basic terms. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, in the spring of 2020, ASHRAE recommended that buildings covered by the foundational standard 62.1 Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality (most buildings) take three significant actions (among other guidance) to limit the potential for indoor transmission of SARS-COV-2:

  1. Increase filtration efficiency in air handling units (AHUs), which contain fans to move the air and coils to cool/heat it.
  2. Increase the fraction of outside (“fresh”) air in the air stream supplied continuously to occupied spaces, thus reducing the fraction of air that is recirculated (outside air flow rate + recirculated air flow rate = total supply air flow rate).
  3. Operate HVAC systems for extended hours to filter/flush occupied spaces of potentially pathogenic aerosols at the end of the day and/or prior to occupancy in the morning.

Viewed in isolation, each of these actions carries a price tag of increased energy consumption—aside from the potentially significant capital cost to implement these changes. Increased filter efficiency means higher pressure drop across the filter and thus more energy for the motor to turn the fan to push the air harder (see Fan Laws). Increased outside air will undoubtedly result in greater energy consumption by the HVAC system over the course of a year due to the increased heating and cooling loads to condition it (Q=m*C*dT). Similarly, running the system after hours means using more energy.

The energy penalty associated with better IAQ is clear for many small, simple systems in design phases. However, in most practical building situations, the reality is much more complex. Leaving aside the specific ASHRAE guidance, the engineer is faced with a matrix of possible choices regarding IAQ and energy consumption more generally in buildings.

Managers and engineers rarely take one remedial action in isolation. Instead, engineers should view system upgrades as a portfolio of actions and design choices. Engineers who have worked in energy reduction-focused capital programs will understand this concept well. Each decision usually results in a project with an associated capital cost—and there is a fixed amount of CAPEX (read: budget) over a certain time horizon. You get the biggest bang for your buck by prioritizing projects with a strategy. Since energy-conscious mechanical engineers design these IAQ upgrades with a strong sustainability preference in many cases, we encourage them to shift their mindset from  “Strategy 1” to “Strategy 2,” as seen in the figure below.

The notion of a struggle between IAQ and sustainability assumes that indoor air is at an acceptable quality in most occupied buildings today. That premise is increasingly challenged, especially considering the very real risks of indoor disease transmission, evidenced by the pandemic. The truth is, we have all expected way too little of the air inside buildings we occupy. Spend a few weeks with an inexpensive IAQ monitor in your home, and you will see how toasters and feather dusters produce particulate matter, that the humidity varies widely, and how carbon dioxide builds up quickly in an enclosed space where people are breathing and talking. The vast majority of engineering effort has gone to controlling temperature alone.

Beyond these environmental variables, which are known to affect health and wellness, the science from public health and engineering academics is obvious: infectious aerosols emitted by people can cause respiratory disease transmission. All of us, including engineers responsible for ventilation design, have come to tolerate an “Acceptable Level of Indoor Air Quality” (from the title of the standard of record in the U.S.) for too long.

A strong argument can be made that health and wellness-targeted improvements in ventilation and IAQ lead, however indirectly, to higher productivity and, thus, people in aggregate doing more with less. What is the point of even constructing and operating buildings, which have huge amounts of embodied carbon, in the first place if they do not serve the people who use them? (See Healthy Buildings, Allen & Macomber, 2020 Harvard, for more.)

We suggest three practical approaches for engineers addressing these trade-offs.

Collect and Utilize as Much Data as Possible

Better information leads to better decisions, and new types of indoor air safety testing are now available. Using DNA tracers in an aerosol-based solution, such as veriDART® by SafeTraces, effectively simulates the chemical composition of respiratory aerosols and their movement and can test the effectiveness of ventilation and filtration on removing potentially pathogenic aerosols from indoor spaces. Instead of making decisions and prioritizing investments based on changing, broad-brush guidelines or theoretical information, veriDART enables engineers to verify the effectiveness of key measures to improve IAQ.

With this information, it’s possible to target remediation efforts and make informed decisions on investments to improve occupant health and safety while also minimizing energy consumption. Be smart when implementing recommendations. How much does it improve health and safety to increase outside air percentage by a certain increment? How long should the ventilation be operated after hours to flush the building? Data from veriDART can help answer these questions. Complementary to tracer-based verification testing are ventilation and air quality data collected by digital control systems and sensors, common now in most buildings. Collecting, organizing, and leveraging this data to make decisions is a crucial success factor for optimizing energy and IAQ performance and is the cornerstone of most “smart building” programs.

Maintain and Monitor Mechanical Systems

The main reason for overstating the sustainability-IAQ trade-off is that most operating HVAC systems are not optimized and have a deferred maintenance backlog. Regular maintenance and repair of HVAC systems are critical to ensuring good IAQ and helps optimize energy efficiency. But many issues go undiagnosed in large, complex systems. Building analytics software, called Fault Detection & Diagnostics (“FDD”), helps proactively identify problem areas and address them to optimize ventilation performance and energy efficiency. One leading FDD solution provider recently analyzed data from their cloud-based solution to find that, in July 2021, across 2,200 buildings in 30 countries, roughly 10 percent of zone equipment and 20 percent of air handling units had at least one mechanical or controls issue affecting IAQ.

In addition, from June 2020 to July 2021, across 400 million square feet of buildings, there had been over 1,700 IAQ-improving failures identified and resolved, resulting in an aggregate estimated annual recurring energy cost savings of about USD $1,000,000. Smart operations and maintenance aided by clever data use can often completely offset the energy penalty of improving IAQ in operating buildings.

Understand and Work with Operational Realities

Engineers must focus on operations, not idealized designs, to identify optimizations. For example, upgrading air filters is a recommended approach to improve IAQ and reduce infectious aerosols. But it comes with a seemingly clear energy penalty. Which air filters should you use? They are not all equal. One design choice is to use higher-quality filters. In a published case study, moving from low to high-quality air filters (of the same efficiency rating) reduced energy consumption by almost 15 percent and reduced the number of required filter changes from four to two per year. While the filters themselves cost about twice as much, the lower energy cost and fewer change-outs resulted in almost 12 percent less overall cost per year, as well as reductions in carbon emissions and solid waste. This helps significantly offset the energy penalty by increasing the filter efficiency. Engineers should use remedial upgrade projects as an opportunity to make informed changes to systems, equipment, and operations that improve IAQ and optimize sustainability.

While engineers face a challenging task balancing sustainability and IAQ, especially in existing facilities with high sunk costs, we believe the challenge will ultimately be a defining moment for the next generation of mechanical engineers working with built environments. Incorporating data from leading technologies like SafeTraces’ veriDART, thinking through strategic portfolios of projects, and understanding the operational realities of the systems they design and build will be key to their success in overcoming the trade-off of sustainability and IAQ.

Erik Malmstrom is the CEO of SafeTraces, a Bay Area technology company and provider of DNA-enabled diagnostic solutions for indoor air quality.

Aaron Lapsley, P.E., is the principal and founder of System2 Consulting, a consulting and engineering firm specializing in technology for the built environment and high-performance building systems.

This article originally appeared on ASME.org. Read it here.

COVID-19 Implications of the Physical Interaction of Artificial Fog on Respiratory Aerosols

Written by Matthew Loss, Mark Katchen, Ilan Arvelo, Phil Arnold, Mona Shum

This content originally appeared on Medwin Publishers.  Access it here.

Positioning For Growth In The Healthy Buildings Technology Market

Report by Verdantix | June 2021
Excerpts provided by SafeTraces

SafeTraces is excited to have been included in a recent report by Verdantix, an independent market research leader, which highlights how Healthy Buildings have emerged as a major trend in the Smart Buildings market.

According to Verdanitx: “Since the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in healthy buildings has increased dramatically amongst employers and building technology providers, and as a result, is emerging as a major trend in the smart buildings market. This report examines the existing and emerging drivers that are propelling the trend for healthy buildings today, provides an overview of the technology landscape, offers vendors advice about capitalizing on this trend, and predicts the future direction. Smart building technology vendors should use this report to inform their healthy buildings product development and go-to-market strategies.”

Verdantix includes that:

“Even before the pandemic, there was growing evidence highlighting the business benefits of healthier buildings. For example, research conducted at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that doubling the standard specified indoor ventilation rate of 20 cubic feet per minute per person increased employee cognitive function, equivalent to a salary increase of $6,500 per employee per year. Healthy buildings also have the potential to add value for asset owners. A 2020 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study found that in the US, healthy buildings achieve a rental premium of between 4.4% and 7.7% more per square foot than similar nearby non-certified and non-registered properties.”

“Real estate and human resources (HR) executives are starting to deploy indoor environmental sensors to gauge the effectiveness of new ventilation strategies and give employees peace of mind about the health of their workplaces. Firms are primarily looking to monitor IAQ, but other metrics, such as lighting, noise and temperature, are also important, to ensure occupant comfort. In our 2020 global survey, we found that 59% of real estate executives are already planning new investment in air quality sensors and analytics, to gain visibility on air quality[…] SafeTraces and UL offer services for verifying IAQ and the performance of HVAC systems.”


Verdantix subscribers can access the full report here.


SafeTraces delivers veriDART®, the market-leading solution for verifying safe indoor airflow. If you have any questions about how veriDART verifies engineering controls and HVAC performance for airborne pathogens to keep people safe in any indoor environment, reach out to us today.

Ventilation in Residential Care Environments

Project led by Dr. Kevin Grosskopf of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with contributions from Roger Lautz, P.E. of Affiliated Engineers Incorporated, Phil Arnold of SafeTraces, Dr. Ehsan Mousavi-Rizi of Clemson University, and Dr. Josephine Lau of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. 

This content originally appeared on nrel.gov. Access it here.

Workplace Safety: Best Practice, Compliance, and Trust in the New Normal

How can employers reopen safely amidst increasing OSHA regulation and employee mistrust in workplace safety? Emerging technology can help.

Written by Erik Malmstrom | April 01, 2021

Amidst renewed urgency for reopening, employers confront two major issues – the proverbial regulatory hammer dropping and an alarming crisis of confidence in workplace safety. Emerging safety technologies can provide a major boost on both fronts.

First, President Biden has signaled a more robust approach to OSHA regulation and enforcement than his predecessor. Forthcoming Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) regulations for employers, directed by an executive order issued on the first day of the Biden presidency, will be accompanied by a recently announced National Emphasis Program (NEP) for COVID-19 enforcement actions in higher hazard industries and an updated Enforcement Response Plan (ERP) to “prioritize COVID-19-related inspections involving deaths or multiple hospitalizations due to occupational exposures.”[1]

Second, a widely cited poll of 3,400 respondents across seven countries conducted by Edelman in late 2020 yielded striking results. Only half of employees believed that office spaces are safe. Employees placed the least amount of confidence in CEOs and senior managers to lead on return to work (14%). Most respondents received the majority of their virus-related information from mainstream and social media, but questioned its fundamental credibility.[2]

As employers prepare for return to work in a pandemic and post-pandemic world, how should they navigate this complex regulatory environment and overcome the trust deficit from employees? At risk of sounding overly simplistic, the answer is clear: they need to create a safe workplace based on best practice and regulation, and they need to communicate to employees with consistent, high quality, and reliable information.

How do we create a safe workplace? For an airborne pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, best practice and regulation have increasingly emphasized the critical importance of ventilation, filtration, and engineering controls to mitigate airborne exposure risk. The American Industrial Hygiene Association’s (AIHA) states, “Engineering controls that can keep infectious aerosols at very low levels indoors offer the greatest promise to protect non-healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations as we reopen our businesses and workplaces.”[3]

AIHA recommends “effective, simple-to-use, and inexpensive” tools to assess pathogenic exposure risk and verify efficacy of engineering controls in real world environments.[4] However, the reality is that existing tools fail to meet these three criteria, including applied tools like tracer gases, anemometers, and balometers for ventilation and particle challenge methods for filters, as well as theoretical tools like computational fluid dynamic modeling and volumetric airflow calculations.

From an efficacy standpoint, existing tools have two major drawbacks: (1) they are not aerosol-based and therefore are limited in their ability to verify ventilation and filtration efficacy for an aerosol contaminant like SARS-CoV-2; and (2) none provides a combined assessment of ventilation and filtration efficacy in one test, requiring triangulation between multiple methods to verify engineering controls holistically. Beyond efficacy, most existing tools are also overly complicated and costly, ultimately deterring regular effective verification.

As management guru Peter Drucker famously once said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Fundamentally, toolbox limitations compromise our ability to accurately and regularly measure exposure risk and manage prevention and communication efforts, directly undermining workplace safety, regulatory compliance and employee confidence. Assessments often fail to produce high quality defensible data and thus create liability for employers. Moreover, employers’ limited ability to communicate data clearly, compellingly, and consistently perpetuates employee mistrust in workplace safety.

While the pandemic has exposed critical toolbox limitations, it has also spurred groundbreaking innovations that have pushed us closer to effective, simple to use, and inexpensive solutions that enhance workplace safety, regulatory compliance, and employee trust. As one example, our company SafeTraces has developed the first commercially available aerosol-based diagnostic solution for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy in real world environments.

Developed with support from the National Institutes of Health and technical experts at leading research universities like Stanford and MIT, the veriDART® solution by SafeTraces leverages patented DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic aerosol mobility and exposure in order to identify high-risk infection hotspots and transmission routes, regularly assess HVAC system performance at an affordable price point and ease of use, and inform remediations with a rigorous science-based, data-driven methodology.

SafeTraces has supported a diverse set of corporate, commercial real estate, and government clients, who have integrated veriDART into critical health, safety, and financial decision-making processes and ongoing environmental health and safety programs. Clients use veriDART to address two universal questions: (1) is air and airflow safe? (2) how and where should I target infection control planning and spending to enhance safety?

Practically, veriDART provides a baseline risk assessment for pathogenic exposure in real world spaces with the ability to regularly verify the same locations. It analyzes relative exposure risk reduction provided by increasing ventilation rates, upgrading MERV-level filters, employing standalone HEPA units, running fans, installing physical barriers, etc. Moreover, our data is independent, scientific, empirical, provided in heatmaps and other visual formats valuable for internal decision-making, regulatory compliance, and crisis communication to employees.

In conclusion, the rapidly evolving regulatory environment and pervasive employee trust deficit in workplace safety means that the cost of inaction for employers is high. Emerging OSHA regulation and enforcement compels employers to act immediately in order to become compliant, avoid citations and penalties, and limit legal liability with defensible data. Meanwhile, employers need to be proactive in enhancing workplace safety and communicating their efforts consistently with high quality, reliable data to employees like never before. Emerging technologies like veriDART are powerful solutions to these important ends.  

This article originally appeared on EHS Today. Read it here.


  1. https://www.ehstoday.com/print/content/21159300
  2. https://www.edelman.com/research/workplace-trust-coronavirus
  3. https://aiha-assets.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/AIHA/resources/Guidance-Documents/Reducing-the-Risk-of-COVID-19-using-Engineering-Controls-Guidance-Document.pdf
  4. https://aiha-assets.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/AIHA/resources/Fact-Sheets/Joint-Consensus-Statement-on-Addressing-the-Aerosol-Transmission-of-SARS-CoV-2-Fact-Sheet.pdfhttps://cdn.ymaws.com/www.iicrc.org/resource/resmgr/images/resources/COVID-19_Professional_Cleani.pdf

Emerging Technology for Verifying Engineering Controls

Groundbreaking aerosol-based solutions for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic

Written by Erik Malmstrom | March 30, 2021

How do health facilities professionals verify that indoor air and airflow are safe? Facing a once-in-a-century airborne pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, the answer to this fundamental question has never been more important. They sometimes don’t know the answer because they cannot accurately quantify exposure risk and verify engineering controls in real world spaces. However, emerging technology is rapidly addressing this gap.

Three critical facts

Scientific, medical and public health experts have arrived at consensus on three critical facts over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted via airborne droplets and aerosols — a fact not universally acknowledged in the early stages of the pandemic.
  • People in indoor environments are exposed to significantly greater infection risk than in outdoor environments, with enclosed areas, prolonged exposure and poor ventilation representing high-risk factors.
  • Engineering controls are critical to mitigating exposure risk, particularly ventilation and filtration.

Health care facility design prioritizes infection control and prevention via enhanced ventilation capabilities, HEPA filtration and negative pressure control. Nevertheless, the pandemic has placed unprecedented stress on these systems due to the high transmissibility of the virus and surges in infections overwhelming designated infection control areas and forcing non-designated areas to handle overflow.

Consequently, mechanical engineers face a complex challenge in verifying the efficacy of engineering controls in designated infection control areas, and responding to the need for rapid repurposing and/or retro-commissioning of areas not originally designed for infection control.

Traditionally, mechanical engineers employ a variety of applied and theoretical methods for verifying efficacy of engineering controls. For verifying ventilation efficacy, tracer-gas based methods using sulfur hexafluoride or carbon dioxide monitors, and direct measurement approaches using instruments, like thermal anemometers and balometers, are common practice.

For verifying filtration efficacy, particle-based methods like dispersed oil particulate for testing HEPA filter integrity and other mostly solid-matter challenge agents for sub-HEPA level filters are common practice. Frequently, non-applied methods augment applied methods like computational fluid dynamic modeling, volumetric airflow calculations and verification of product specifications for HVAC equipment.

In February 2021, the American Industrial Hygiene Association released the “Joint Consensus Statement on Addressing the Aerosol Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and Recommendations for Preventing Occupational Exposures,” emphasizing the need for “(1) effective, (2) simple-to-use and (3) inexpensive ventilation assessment tools.” Implicit in this recommendation is that existing assessment tools fail to satisfy these three criteria.

From an efficacy standpoint, existing assessment tools have two major drawbacks: (1) They are not liquid aerosol-based and therefore not optimal for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy for infectious aerosols like SARS-CoV-2, influenza and tuberculosis; and (2) none provide a combined assessment of ventilation and filtration efficacy within one test, requiring triangulation between multiple methods to verify engineering controls holistically.

Beyond efficacy, many practitioners do not consider existing solutions simple-to-use and/or inexpensive, resulting infrequent verification. Consequently, the baseline understanding of airflow, and ventilation and filtration efficacy in real world health care facilities is less robust than one would like. Moreover, the uniqueness of each facility, dynamic nature of airflow and infection risk within facilities, and natural wear and tear of mechanical and HVAC systems, underscores the importance of regular, ongoing verification that exceeds the capabilities of existing assessment tools.

Technical advances

However, the pandemic has spurred groundbreaking technological advances that have pushed us closer to effective, simple to use and inexpensive solutions that can be used routinely in real world spaces.

As one example, SafeTraces Inc., Pleasanton, Calif., has developed the first commercially available aerosol-based diagnostic solution for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy for airborne pathogens. Developed with support from the National Institutes of Health and technical experts at leading research universities like Stanford and MIT, the veriDART<sup>®</sup> solution by SafeTraces leverages patented DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic aerosol mobility and exposure to identify high-risk infection hotspots and transmission routes, regularly assesses HVAC system performance at an affordable price point and ease of use, and informs remediations with a rigorous science-based, data-driven methodology.

The veriDART<sup>®</sup> by SafeTraces was used to iteratively verify negative pressure controls and airflow isolation between hot zone and safe area at a major superspreader site.

SafeTraces’ technology consists of two main components.

First, the particle technology enables the SafeTraces team to safely simulate the chemical composition, particle size distribution and detection method of virus-laden respiratory droplets and aerosols to verify ventilation and filtration efficacy in one test. DNA provides three significant advantages relative to existing methodologies: (1) DNA is highly sensitive to detection, meaning relatively small amounts of DNA can be used to test large areas at very precise levels; (2) unique DNA identifiers can be tagged to different tracer solutions, meaning multiple tracers can be released simultaneously simulating viral emissions at different points in a facility and each sample point can be tested against each unique tracer to develop a sophisticated assessment of aerosol mobility and exposure patterns; and (3) the DNA-tagged tracer solutions are completely safe, using food-grade, water-soluble materials that are FDA-Generally Recognized as Safe (FDA-GRAS), that are OSHA- and NIOSH-compliant, and that allow for occupants to be in the facility during testing.

Second, the data technology enables the SafeTraces team to precisely measure DNA signal strength, correlate test results to a relative exposure risk scale informed by infectious disease science and generate heatmaps and other visualizations to clearly communicate key findings and implications.

In recent months, SafeTraces has supported a diverse set of corporate, commercial real estate and government clients, that have integrated the veriDART solution into critical health, safety and financial decision-making processes and ongoing environmental health and safety programs.

Notably, SafeTraces has supported health care facilities in three main areas: (1) It verified the efficacy of engineering controls in designated infection control areas, verifying ventilation, filtration and negative pressure control performance against reference standards like American National Standards Institute/ASHRAE/American Society for Health Care Engineering’s Standard 170, Ventilation of Health Care Facilities; (2) it verified the efficacy of engineering controls in repurposed and/or retro-commissioned areas to improve building operation and maintenance procedures, often iteratively testing ventilation, filtration and negative pressure controls until a level of performance was achieved to ensure adequate infection control; and (3) it verified the efficacy of engineering controls in non-infection control areas, including high-risk areas like lobbies, waiting rooms and breakrooms.

Real-world examples illustrate the practical value of SafeTraces’ verification solution for infection control.

In late 2020, veriDART supported the retrofit of an existing long-term care facility resident wing into a temporary isolation unit, with modifications including increased ventilation rates, negative pressure controls, HEPA filtration and physical airflow barriers. The test results quantified the relative impact of varying ventilation rates, negative versus neutral airflow modes and other critical priorities, such as the “blast radius” of particle dispersion and particle detection levels in the HVAC system and filters to inform critical design decision-making.

In a separate engagement, SafeTraces supported a large prison during a major coronavirus outbreak that infected hundreds of inmates and staff. The crisis forced the prison’s leadership to evacuate the main prison complex and establish a large makeshift infection ward in a vacant warehouse on its premises. Prior to populating the ward, the prison’s leadership sought to verify airflow isolation and efficacy of negative pressure controls between the “hot zone” designated to house hundreds of infected inmates and the “safe area” designated for medical and administrative staff. The SafeTraces team worked with the prison’s facilities team to iteratively assess performance of negative pressure controls, with dramatic improvement between initial and final results and ultimately mitigating further viral spread (see graphic).

Quantifying risk

Emerging technologies are transforming the ability of health care facilities to quantify exposure risk and verify engineering controls for airborne pathogens with far-reaching consequences beyond the current pandemic. The benefits of these technologies-enabled solutions are enormous: enhancing patient and provider safety; regularly auditing HVAC system performance in ways never before possible; targeting remediation spending to its highest value opportunities; supporting compliance for rapidly evolving regulation; and eventually factoring into liability insurance and other mechanisms for evaluating and underwriting risk. It will be important for facilities engineers to be adaptive and consider how and where emerging technologies can best be integrated into their respective facilities for improved infection control and safety.

This article originally appeared on ASHE’s Health Facilities Management Magazine Online. Read it here.

veriDART® by SafeTraces named in Verdantix 10 Exciting Indoor Air Quality Technologies To Watch in 2021

Written by SafeTraces | March 2021

SafeTraces  is proud to announce that our veriDART® solution has been recognized as one of 10 exciting indoor air quality technologies to watch in 2021 by Verdantix, an independent market research leader.

According to Verdantix: “This report identifies 10 of the most innovative hardware and software technologies aimed at improving IAQ and HVAC operation. Corporate executives in facilities, EHS, human resources (HR) and real estate roles should use this report to understand the cutting-edge innovation occurring in the IAQ market and how these solutions can add value to their buildings.”

Verdantix highlights that:

“SafeTraces offers one-off and repeat validation services that provide insight into many of the operational functionalities of HVAC systems, such as filter performance, airflow patterns and fresh air ventilation rates.”

“Facilities managers with older HVAC systems and buildings should consider this solution to gauge viral transmission risk within their buildings and to identify methods to mitigate this risk.”


Verdantix subscribers can access the full report here.


SafeTraces is committed to ensuring the highest safety standards for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the medication we take. If you have any questions about how  veriDART verifies real world HVAC system performance to mitigate exposure risk for airborne pathogens or are interested in purchasing the solution, reach out to us today.