The SafeTraces Podcast – Episode #3

Date: November 4, 2020

Episode #3
Lisa Kay, Chief Operating Officer at NV5

For this episode, CEO Erik Malmstrom speaks with Lisa Kay, the COO of Health and Safety at NV5, with whom SafeTraces is collaborating to deliver the SafeTraces veriDART solution. Lisa leads a team of high-performing environmental, health, and safety (EHS) consultants with the mission of making businesses cleaner, stronger, and safer. She sheds light on NV5’s EHS practice, her perspective on the impacts of COVID-19 on the built environment, and the kind of work NV5 has been doing to help clients navigate challenges since the pandemic began.

Managing Indoor Air Quality Amid COVID-19

Featured in Restoration & Remediation

Written by Mark Drozdov | October 7, 2020

As we seek to return to normalcy without a vaccine, COVID-19 confronts us with a troubling reality. We spend 90% of our time indoors in the U.S. and Europe, and scientific evidence indicates we are nearly 20 times more likely to be infected by the virus indoors than outdoors. COVID-19 has impacted many indoor settings such as schools, offices, churches, restaurants and bars, with prisons, meatpacking plants, and long-term care facilities being most affected due to high occupancy, poor ventilation and vulnerable populations.

Increasingly, scientists believe airborne transmission is a major route for the spread of COVID-19. Viral respiratory droplets released from coughing, sneezing, talking, and breathing can aerosolize into smaller particles, stay suspended in the air for hours, and travel significantly farther than six feet. A key scientific debate has been whether the virus is infectious in aerosols.

Though the virus is clearly detectable in aerosols, no one had been able to provide evidence  that it is “live” until the University of Florida. Skeptics of airborne transmission have been using this lack of evidence to challenge the importance of this mechanism. As the prominent aerosol scientist Linsey Marr said about the UF study, “If this isn’t a smoking gun, then I don’t know what is.” Even those who acknowledge aerosol’s infectiousness debate the relative importance of different viral transmission routes, including airborne or fomite, droplet or aerosol, direct or indirect contact, or a combination of mechanisms.

The role of airborne transmission of COVID-19 has a huge bearing on infection control in the built environment in two important respects. First, common approaches characterized by deep cleaning are incomplete and possibly misguided altogether. Second, masking and social distancing by themselves might be insufficient for mitigating airborne transmission.

Lisa Brosseau, a retired professor of public health, says that masks can limit larger particles’ spread, but they are less helpful for smaller particles. Aerosol mobility of over 30 feet, and suspension in air for hours can reduce the efficacy of six-foot social distancing mandates.

Image via Restoration & Remediation Magazine Online.

The fundamental question is what can and should we do to mitigate airborne transmission and create “safe” indoor environments amid COVID-19? One critically important and often overlooked area is engineering and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) controls. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (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 workplace.”

Similarly, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) states, “Changes in building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems can reduce airborne exposures.” It highlights the following HVAC strategies based on evidence-based literature:

  • Enhanced filtration that includes higher Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) filters over code minimums in occupant-dense and/or higher-risk spaces
  • Upper-room UltraViolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI), with possible in-room fans, as a supplement to supply airflow
  • Local exhaust ventilation for source control
  • Personalized ventilation systems for certain high-risk tasks
  • Portable, free-standing High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters
  • Temperature and humidity control

ASHRAE is careful to qualify its recommendations with the caveat that the system’s impact will depend on the source location, strength, and distribution of the released aerosol, droplet size, temperature, air distribution, humidity, and filtration. Each indoor environment is unique; conditions within each indoor environment are dynamic, and there is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for infection control.

Emerging technology by SafeTraces to evaluate engineering and HVAC systems for infection control. Image via Restoration & Remediation Magazine Online.

The complex and evolving nature of the airborne transmission risk has resulted in two broad categories of responses for engineering and HVAC controls. The first is that owners and operators, particularly those responsible for mission-essential businesses, have spent significant financial resources on many of ASHRAE’s recommended strategies and beyond. The second category is many other owners and operators have done little due to being overwhelmed, confused, resource-constrained, or merely taking a wait-and-see approach.

Empirical data that allows people to understand the current level of risk and remediation usefulness is absent from most decision-making processes. ASHRAE, AIHA, IICRC and other leading authorities base their recommendations on evidence-based methodologies and peer-reviewed research.

Extrapolating academic studies results to any specific indoor environment has significant challenges and limitations, especially for a novel virus like SARS-CoV-2. ASHRAE and AIHA acknowledge as much, urging the involvement of knowledgeable mechanical engineers and industrial hygienists familiar with a building and, in some cases leveraging computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling.

However, mechanical engineers and industrial hygienists have candidly and consistently shared with us their concerns around infectious aerosols. Simply put, existing diagnostic solutions for indoor air quality, including tracer gases, smoke or bubble testing, and monitors or sensors may be insufficient for assessing the risk posed by an airborne pathogen like SARS-CoV-2.

The good news is that emerging technologies at the cutting edge of building, health, and data science are posed to fill this gap. One notable solution is veriDART, developed by the Bay Area-based technology company SafeTraces with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) support. This groundbreaking technology safely mimics the airborne pathogen’s mobility with proprietary tracers based on the chemical composition, fluid dynamics, and detection methods of human saliva and aerosols that comply with OSHA, NIOSH, and ACGIH exposure limits. The key is to enable owners and operators to identify hotspots, assess filtration and ventilation, and inform remediations with empirical data, heatmap visualizations, and time-series analyses.

The challenge is how it efficiently support safer office reopening and emergency response at sites, yielding valuable data for what could be very costly engineering and HVAC control decisions. For example, a Fortune 500 company used veriDART for both a survey risk assessment of their 500,000 square foot office building and targeted risk assessments of their restrooms, conference rooms, and other perceived high-risk locations. A major focus area of testing was dilution ventilation, which ASHRAE and AIHA cite as an important engineering control for reducing an occupant’s exposure to airborne viruses.

It was established by veriDART data-driven time and condition parameters for tracer dilution to the diagnostic indicator level of low risk. Interestingly, the number of effective air changes per hour had a uniform effect on tracer dilution within a room, but non-uniform across rooms of similar size, HVAC configuration, and test conditions. The customer’s implication was clear: they needed to be careful about not over-generalizing their engineering and HVAC controls across the entire building.

veriDART solution measures time and HVAC setting parameters for dilution ventilation of aerosol particles. Image via Restoration & Remediation Magazine Online.

Additionally, test results indicated mechanical issues, including exhaust systems not functioning properly and unexpected airflow between high-trafficked areas. In many cases, test results confirmed engineering and HVAC controls performed as expected. Ultimately, the user leveraged data to baseline their risk and inform tactical decisions regarding space utilization SOP’s, filtration enhancements, and procurement of airborne interventions prior.

Engineering and HVAC controls represent one of the most important opportunity areas for mitigating viral spread. However, there is no silver bullet strategy given each building’s uniqueness and constantly evolving conditions within the building. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Assessing your risk through regular environmental monitoring and data-driven technology solutions will be hugely consequential for occupant health and safety, organizational productivity and liability, and development of infection control strategies that are both effective and financially sustainable.

This article originally appeared on Restoration & Remediation Magazine Online. Read it here.

References:

  1. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.28.20029272v2
  2. https://www.pnas.org/content/117/26/14857
  3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2763852
  4. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.08.03.20167395v1
  5. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/07/11/1005087/coronavirus-airborne-fighting-wrong-way/
  6. https://aiha-assets.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/AIHA/resources/Guidance-Documents/Reducing-the-Risk-of-COVID-19-using-Engineering-Controls-Guidance-Document.pdf
  7. https://www.ashrae.org/file%20library/about/position%20documents/pd_infectiousaerosols_2020.pdf
  8. Ibid.
  9. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.iicrc.org/resource/resmgr/images/resources/COVID-19_Professional_Cleani.pdf

The SafeTraces Podcast – Episode #2

Date: September 28, 2020

Episode #2
Glenn Fishler, MS

For the second episode, CEO Erik Malmstrom connects with Glenn Fishler, who was a Board Certified Industrial Hygienist for 32 years (1985-2017) and now sits on the Boards of Directors for McMillen Jacobs Associates and Citadel EHS, and is an executive advisor for SafeTraces. They discuss the ongoing pandemic and Glenn offers his perspective on airborne virus transmission as it relates to the environmental, health, and safe space.

The SafeTraces Podcast – Episode #1

Date: September 8, 2020

Episode #1
John Martin, ScD, CIH, CHMM

In the first episode, SafeTraces CEO Erik Malmstrom speaks with veriDART advisor John Martin – a leading industrial hygienist and aerosol scientist – about airborne transmission of COVID-19, engineering and HVAC controls, and the urgent need for data-driven validation and verification solutions.

The Role of Aerosols in COVID-19 Transmission

Aerosols in COVID-19 Transmission

Written by Erik Malmstrom, CEO of SafeTraces |  May 27, 2020

Initial Answers to the “Trillion-Dollar Question”: The Role of Aerosols in COVID-19 Transmission and Implications for Safely Reopening Shared Spaces

In an April 14 New York Times article titled “Stay 6 Feet Apart, We’re Told. But How Far Can Air Carry the Coronavirus,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, posed a question with enormous implications for global health and safety as we return to shared spaces in the absence of a vaccine and reliable rapid testing: 

“The question is what does it take for you to get infected? And that I think is the trillion-dollar question we have…maybe all it takes is an aerosol. You don’t need any droplets at all.” 

Dr. Osterholm highlights one of the critical “known unknowns” of COVID-19 – the transmission role of aerosols, or particles under five microns in diameter that are emitted while talking and breathing, that can stay suspended in air for hours, and that can travel over 20 feet.

Currently, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) of six feet separation in public assumes that large droplets from coughing and sneezing are the principal means of COVID-19 transmission and that most large droplets drop to the ground within six feet.

However, a chorus of prominent experts have emphasized the role of aerosols and air flow as a potentially important transmission vehicle for COVID-19, with emerging scientific research lending credence to their argument:

What does the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 via aerosols mean for the air that we breathe in shared spaces that many of us will be returning to? 

On this matter, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), a leading professional association whose guidance is widely referred to by facility managers, published a position document on infectious aerosols in April stating:

“Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes in building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”

Given the complexity, urgency, and our evolving understanding of the risk presented by COVID-19 aerosols, practical application of ASHRAE’s guidance is easier said than done. In our experience, the airborne transmission risk is not always well-understood by facility managers and therefore insufficiently accounted for in reopening plans. Moreover, there is a notable gap in diagnostic tools available for assessing the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors.

Based on groundbreaking technology developed with the support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), our veriDART solution for verifying safe indoor airflows fills this gap. veriDART leverages proprietary airborne tracers that safely mimic the mobility of airborne pathogens like COVID-19 in order to identify high-risk transmission vectors, assess the efficacy of filtration, ventilation, and anti-microbial solutions, and instill public trust and confidence in buildings for safe occupancy.

Joseph Allen, Director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said, “The evidence suggests that mitigating airborne transmission should be at the front of our disease-control strategies for COVID-19.” As facility managers gradually reopen buildings while preparing for a potential second wave of viral outbreak this fall, veriDART is a powerful tool in the fight against COVID-19  – and gets us a step closer to answering the trillion-dollar question.

Please follow up to learn more and become an early adopter.   

Safety & Traceability in New Industries

Expanding Traceability to New Industries

Date: May 18, 2020

We hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We wanted to provide an update on exciting developments at SafeTraces. At our core, our company is a mission-driven organization committed to solving the biggest, toughest safety challenges in the world. Until recently, we have been exclusively focused on food and agriculture-based applications of our technology. And for good reason. There is tremendous need for technology-enabled solutions for food safety and authenticity – consumers demand it, regulators mandate it, and food companies invest in it as a key source of value and competitive advantage.

Our miniDART and saniDART solutions represent major technological breakthroughs for food safety. miniDART is the first and only on-food traceability solution, leveraging edible, invisible DNA-based barcodes (FDA GRAS) that are applied directly to the food or ingredient and that a downstream purchaser can read with a rapid, inexpensive, on-site test to verify product source and authenticity. saniDART is the first rapid solution for verifying sanitation effectiveness at a microbial level to receive approval from AOAC-International, the gold standard for proprietary testing methods in food safety.

However, in recent months, opportunities beyond food and agriculture have increasingly demanded our attention for three important reasons. First, COVID-19 has created seismic global health and economic challenges that our technology is uniquely suited to help mitigate. Second, many companies outside of food and agriculture have sought our support, seeing our technology as a valuable solution to safety and security challenges confronting their operations. Third, our technology is highly versatile, enabling deployment in a wide variety of applications at scale. And that is why we have been compelled to support two other global industries facing enormous, urgent challenges:

Verifying Safe Airflow in the Built Environment

COVID-19 represents an unprecedented threat to public health and the global economy. As of mid-May 2020, Johns Hopkins counts nearly 300,000 deaths and four and a half million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally in less than six months, sadly with these statistics forecasted to continue increasing until a vaccine is successfully developed.

Ranging from office buildings to nursing homes to food processing plants, the virus presents a major safety and health risk to the built environment given the complexity of airflows and the risk of airborne transmission. Currently, property managers lack adequate tools for assessing and mitigating this risk safely.

In response, we are excited to launch veriDART, our groundbreaking solution that leverages airborne tracers that safely mimic the mobility of pathogens like COVID-19 in order to verify safe airflows for building occupancy and re-occupancy. veriDART empowers property managers with a powerful tool to identify high-risk transmission vectors, ensure effective filtration, ventilation, and other protective measures, and target remediation actions. veriDART draws on SafeTraces’ deep expertise in surrogate particle development, built over years with support from leading institutions like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Anti-Counterfeiting for Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceuticals

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the $200 billion global market for counterfeit drugs, touching nearly every therapeutic class, kill hundreds of thousands of people annually. Additionally, counterfeit nutraceuticals pose a serious threat to consumers as more than 50% of FDA Class I recalls between 2004 and 2012 were for dietary supplements. Product security stops at the unit of sale level, enabling significant risk of fraud, adulteration, and diversion during manufacturing and distribution.

To meet this growing need, we have introduced our on-dose traceability solution that leverages edible, invisible, FDA-GRAS, DNA barcodes that are mixed with coating or ingredients and applied to directly to pharmaceutical and nutraceutical pills during regular production. In turn, downstream supply chain partners can verify the authenticity, origin, and safety of a dose or its ingredients within 25 minutes more accurately and reliably than with traditional packaging-based serialization.

In closing, broadening our mission to ensure the highest safety standards of the food we eat, the medicine we take, and the air we breathe is an exciting and natural evolution of our company. Now more than ever, people demand transparency and assurances from food companies, drug manufacturers, and property managers regarding their safety practices. We are honored to tirelessly support our customers in making a better, safer world.

Sincerely,

Erik

 

 

Erik Malmstrom


Erik has been a leader at the intersection of agriculture and technology in senior roles at Farmers Business Network, Cargill, and the White House. He is a co-founder of CrossBoundary, a leading frontier market investment advisor, and is a combat veteran and graduate of U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne Schools. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a joint M.B.A. – M.P.P. from Harvard Business and Kennedy Schools.

 

Lessons in COVID-19

Lessons in COVID-19

Date: March 25, 2020

Takeaways for the Future of Food Safety

Erik Malmstrom

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our dangerous lack of public health readiness to contain the rapid spread of a deadly virus in the US, demonstrated by our insufficient testing capabilities and our inability to effectively track and trace in the early days of the outbreak. While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging, it is fair to question the US food system’s preparedness for pandemics in which food has greater potential to be a carrier. Identifying and addressing weaknesses now has the potential of mitigating the risk of catastrophic health and economic consequences in the future.

In the US, a multi-stakeholder coalition of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Authority (FDA), Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Authority (USDA-FSIS), and state and local public health authorities is responsible for responding to infections and outbreaks transmitted through food. Enacted in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) upgraded the US food safety system for produce and processed food, governed by FDA, by requiring stronger tracking of foodborne illnesses, stronger oversight of food production, stronger preventive controls, and empowering FDA with mandatory recall authority. However, at the time of FSMA’s enactment, Congress did not simultaneously upgrade safety standards for meat and poultry, governed by USDA-FSIS, with food recalls continuing to be almost all voluntary and initiated by manufacturers and distributors.

Consequently, critics believe that fragmentation of the food safety system in the US has resulted in “inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.”¹ Moreover, the current system has led to bifurcated outcomes – total produce and processed food recalls governed by FDA have decreased 34% since the implementation of new food safety plans for food companies in 2016, with the most hazardous recalls (Class I) dropping 54%. Meanwhile, total meat and poultry recalls governed by USDA-FSIS have increased 65% since 2013, with the most hazardous recalls (Class I) increasing by 85%.²

Technological modernization is another challenge and opportunity for food safety. In 2019, the FDA launched a major initiative called “The New Era of Smarter Food Safety” in order to “leverage technology and other tools, to create a more digital, traceable, and safer food system.”³ In many respects, the US food industry lags behind other industries with respect to its level of technological sophistication for ensuring the safety and security of its supply chain. One of the most glaring gaps between current food industry practice and commercially available technology used in other industries pertains to rapid testing for food safety and traceability. As we’ve seen with South Korea and other Asian countries that have most effectively responded to COVID-19, deploying rapid testing, tracking, and tracing technology in healthcare, early and often, can have a decisive impact on containment. Similarly, rapid testing, tracking, and tracing technology is extremely valuable in identifying and removing lethal contaminants in the food chain.

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