The built environment stands at a 1967-like inflection point, when the invention of computed tomography (CT) revolutionized medicine
By Erik Malmstrom
Over the past year, IAQ experts have described the COVID-19 pandemic as a watershed event, drawing historical analogies from Chadwick’s 1842 Sanitary Report that led the British government to organize clean water supplies and centralized sewage systems1 to the 1918 influenza pandemic that gave rise to modernist architecture2, innovations in steam radiators3, among other major long-lasting reforms to building design and operations.However, a different historical analogy may be more appropriate, at least from a technology and innovation standpoint – Sir Godfrey Hounsfield’s 1967 invention of the first computed tomography (CT) scanner. CT is considered one of the most important medical innovations in human history, advancing us from a largely superficial to an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the inner workings of the human body.4 CT images display soft tissue contrasted with anatomic detail, exponentially enhancing diagnostic accuracy for detecting, measuring, and visualizing abnormalities in the body’s metabolic processes and physiological activities, including cancer, heart disease, and neurological disorders.
With over 100 million studies performed annually, CT has become the "modern doctor’s truth machine.”6 Moreover, CT kicked off a revolution in medical imaging, with major improvements in the efficacy, precision, and speed of CT itself in subsequent decades as well as the invention of complementary diagnostic technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). Today, medical imaging is fundamental to “the entire health-care continuum, from wellness and screening, to early diagnosis, treatment selection, and follow-up,”7 representing a true step change advancement for the field.
In 2021, the built environment stands at a 1967-like inflection point, when technological breakthroughs will make “healthy buildings” real, not just a marketing gimmick. Indeed, the term “healthy buildings” implies that the building is human body-like in nature – a complex interconnected system with a core and shell (skeleton and skin), vital mechanical and HVAC systems (tissues and organs) that regulate core processes and activities such as airflow, ventilation and filtration (blood flow, biochemical function, absorption), all of which have direct health implications for the key system components – people (cells). Like medicine prior to CT, building doctors – architects, engineers, industrial hygienists, facilities professionals – have traditionally operated and continue to operate with an extremely limited and flawed toolbox for preventing airborne disease transmission, the invisible, deadly, and costly public health scourge that defines our times. This shortcoming has led to a shallow understanding of airflow, ventilation, and filtration, our essential controls for combating respiratory infection, and consequently a damaging breakdown in diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring for airborne disease transmission risk within buildings, leading to millions of preventable infections, billions of dollars of wasted spending and productivity, and billions of tons of avoidable carbon emissions.
Simply put, SafeTraces’ diagnostic imaging technology is as consequential for building health as CT, MRI, and PET have been for human health. Rooted in biosecurity and supported by the National Institutes of Health and world-class experts at MIT, Stanford, and other leading research institutions, our company has developed the first solution for testing and verifying indoor air/airflow safety and HVAC system performance for airborne disease exposure risk in real-world buildings.
Conceptually, SafeTraces’ technology is analogous to PET for buildings, leveraging patented and safe DNA-tagged aerosol tracers to detect, measure, and visualize abnormalities in airflow, ventilation, and filtration in real world indoor spaces (not software-based models), the foundations of healthy buildings and healthy people. The controlled release of our tracers simulate respiratory emissions and exposures to SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and other airborne diseases to:
Practically, our technology is employed in facility portfolios as a recurring preventative building health and measurement & verification (M&V) service to enhance:
What is the value of SafeTraces technology to our clients and partners, including Fortune 100 companies, leading commercial real estate owners and operators like the Irvine Company, Brookfield Properties, and JLL, and large public entities like the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and the State of California?
In sum, SafeTraces’ technology is central to the healthy building continuum in the same way that medical imaging technology is central to the healthcare continuum, dramatically sharpening diagnostic accuracy in order to protect occupants from airborne disease, better manage financial resources, and reduce carbon impacts of health & safety strategies. Moreover, the impact of our technology will be amplified by pooling data from millions of assessments within and across buildings over time under different conditions and correlating with other IAQ diagnostic data in order to strengthen the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring process through data science.
Moreover, SafeTraces is proud and excited to be a founding member of ASPIRE for three main reasons. First, we are deeply committed to ASPIRE’s mission to develop a new paradigm for IAQ that balances health & safety and sustainability via foundational knowledge, codes & standards, and solutions & analytics. Second, we have tremendous respect for ASPIRE’s market-leading proptech founding members and see huge synergies and potential between our technology and their complementary innovative technologies spanning IAQ sensors and analytics (Awair), fault detection and diagnostics (Clockwork Analytics), sustainable air purification (enVerid), and high performance building services (System2). Third, ASPIRE will be a powerful vehicle to advance the agenda for risk-based ventilation rates for infection control proposed by Lidia Morawska, Joseph Allen, William Bahnfleth et al,10 as well as reformed policies, regulations, and building codes and increased government funding for IAQ research and development. 2021 has the potential to usher in an exciting new era for performance-based and data-driven IAQ, where public need, political will, and technological advancements meet the moment in the interest of public health and safety, financial responsibility, and sustainability. With one of the most groundbreaking technologies in IAQ, SafeTraces is eager to work with our sister ASPIRE members and other like-minded allies to make this potential a reality.