Making Healthy Buildings Real: The Coming Revolution in Diagnostic Imaging Technology

The built environment stands at a 1967-like inflection point, when the invention of computed tomography (CT) revolutionized medicine

By Erik Malmstrom | October 4, 2021

How Diagnostic Imaging Technology Transformed Medicine

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. 

The Evolution of Medical Imaging Technology5

Sir Godfrey Hounsfield’s 1967 invention of the first computed tomography (CT) scanner is considered one of the most important medical innovations in human history, kicking off a series of breakthroughs in medical imaging technology and advancing us from a largely superficial to an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the inner workings of the human body.

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.

How Diagnostic Imaging Technology Will Transform the Built Environment

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. 

Air Balance Test Output8

Air balance test outputs and other existing diagnostics reports for ventilation and filtrations performance are not geared towards health and safety risk mitigation, have limited utility for addressing airborne disease transmission, and are often not visually digestible and intuitive.

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.

SafeTraces Airflow, Ventilation, and Filtration Test Output

Heatmaps visualize airborne pathogen mobility, exposure levels, and ventilation and filtration system performance resulting from the safe, controlled release of patented DNA-tagged aerosol tracers in 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: 

  • Identity potential infection hotspots and transmission pathways 
  • Measure ventilation and filtration system performance in removing infectious aerosols from the air 
  • Visualize analytics in heatmaps and other clear graphics that enable building owners, operators, service providers, and occupants to see the “invisible” and make better, smarter decisions

Commercial Application and Return on Investment (ROI)

Practically, our technology is employed in facility portfolios as a recurring preventative building health and measurement & verification (M&V) service to enhance:

  • Indoor environmental quality programs (including major building verifications and certifications)
  • Service and maintenance programs
  • Compliance and audit programs
  • Capital budgeting and planning
  • Public communications on workplace safety

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?

  • Health and Safety ROI: we quantifiably measure the exposure risk reduction for airborne pathogens provided by real world ventilation and filtration systems and infection control strategies. Does increasing outside air rates or MERV-level filters in central air handling units actually do anything? Which product model, size, position, and setting level is optimal for local filtration devices? Absent our technology, there is virtually no way to know. However, our technology holds the answers in order to proactively measure and manage risk, keep occupants safe, and communicate safety conditions and mitigation actions to employees, tenants, regulators, and other key stakeholders. 
  • Financial ROI: we optimize capital investments on HVAC and local ventilation and filtration upgrades, minimize cost penalties associated with increasing ventilation rates, filtration levels, and building flushes that can be upwards of 30%, and develop portfolio-level strategies for how and where to most effectively and cost-effectively spend money. In real terms, what does this mean for our clients? In many cases, saving millions if not tens of millions of dollars that would have otherwise been misdirected and wasted, and increasing the probability of getting tenants and employees back into otherwise unoccupied buildings, keeping them there safely, and avoiding depressed leasing levels and vacancies threatening the commercial real estate industry.
  • Sustainability ROI: we minimize carbon penalties associated with increasing ventilation rates, filtration levels, and building flushes, identify optimal points of health & safety and sustainability-focused IAQ, and develop resiliency strategies in order to react to extraordinary events like pandemics in a carbon-sensitive manner, especially important for clients committed to green building, decarbonization, and net zero programs. The real estate sector is responsible for 30% of global annual greenhouse gas (GHG) and 40% of global energy consumption, with the HVAC system accounting for a significant share of these numbers9. Our diagnostic assessment helps right-size ventilation rates and filtration levels for infection control while avoiding unnecessary energy usage and carbon emissions  

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. 

Shifting the IAQ Paradigm: The Alliance for Sustainable and Practical IAQ in Real Estate (ASPIRE)

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.

  1. https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/science.abg2025
  2. https://slate.com/business/2020/04/coronavirus-architecture-1918-flu-cholera-modernism.html
  3. https://www.npr.org/2020/12/10/945136599/how-spanish-flu-pandemic-changed-home-heat-radiators
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6186003/pdf/rmmj-9-4-e0034.pdf
  5. https://sdbif.org/index/whats-the-difference-between-all-the-different-head-scans/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6186003/pdf/rmmj-9-4-e0034.pdf
  7.  Ibid
  8. https://kitchenairinc.com/test-and-balancing/
  9. https://www.schroders.com/en/insights/economics/does-an-emissions-scandal-await-the-real-estate-sector/
  10. https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/science.abg2025

Is There COVID in the Air at Your Office or Workplace?

SafeTraces, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA, has now been hired by, and is measuring the “air change” in office buildings, universities, and public spaces.

By Joel Grover and Josh Davis

Date: August 5, 2021

When one of California’s biggest owners of office space–The Irvine Company–wanted to make sure the air in its buildings was free of viruses, it hired a Bay Area company that showed up with spray bottles and skilled technicians.

The company, called SafeTraces, was testing the air in the offices to measure something called “air change”—the number of times per hour that the air in a room is totally changed through ventilation and filtration.

As millions of people are returning to their offices and workplaces for the first time since the pandemic began, public health doctors are realizing that sufficient “air change” is critical to preventing further spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.

It’s now well documented the droplets from a cough or sneeze can spread viruses “which can stay in the air for 30 minutes to hours… and travel well beyond six feet” in a room, said Professor Joseph Allen, head of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“One of the biggest surprises of the entire pandemic is that there’s been a failure to recognize the reality of airborne transmission,” Professor Allen told the I-Team.

SafeTraces, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA, has now been hired by, and is measuring the “air change” in office buildings, universities, and public spaces such as Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Airport.

“Most employees won’t really know if the air quality is good in their buildings,” said SafeTraces CEO Erik Malmstrom.

The I-Team traveled to SafeTraces headquarters to see how the company tests the air in an office or workplace, using a spray that looks like air freshener. It’s really a DNA-laced aerosol, called veriDART.

“It’s intended to simulate a cough or sneeze,” SafeTraces’ Malmstrom told the I-Team.

The DNA solution is sprayed in the air numerous times, then a machine captures air samples, which are then analyzed in a lab to see how many virus-like particles remained in the air. The results reveal the “air change” in a room.

If the air in a room isn’t changed often enough, people could inhale airborne viruses and get sick.

“With SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID], the majority of outbreaks involving 3 or more people have been linked… to airborne transmission,” wrote Harvard’s Professor Allen.

The I-Team discovered that no government agency has yet set clear standards for air changes in a room, though Cal/OSHA told NBC4 “Cal/OSHA’s emergency temporary standards require employers to take steps to improve indoor airflow and filtration whenever possible. Cal/OSHA enforces these requirements by investigating complaints from workers, referrals from non-workers and notifications of work-related serious injuries, illnesses and fatalities.”

But Harvard’s School of Public Health has determined there should be at least four complete changes of the air in a room every hour, “ideally” six changes.

“That means you’re changing out air six times per hour or every ten minutes, through the combination of ventilation and filtration,” said SafeTraces’ CEO Malmstrom.

In high risk settings like hospital operating rooms, the air is changed 12 times an hour, according to a U.S. Department of Defense study. On commercial airplanes, the air is changed through advanced HEPA filtration systems up to 36 times an hour. But in most indoor settings, the air change falls below the Harvard standard for healthy air.

“For example, in your home, typically you get half an air change per hour. In a school, we get less than 3 air changes per hour,” said Harvard’s Professor Allen.

When SafeTraces tested the air in its own conference room, similar to those in thousands of office buildings, the air was being changed only three times an hour, not the recommended six.

“We don’t think that’s enough,” said the company’s CEO.

But improving the air change in an office or home isn’t necessarily expensive or complicated.

“It’s really quite simple,” said Harvard’s Professor Allen. “You can sometimes accomplish it by opening up the windows a bit, or purchasing a portable air cleaners with a HEPA filter.”

When SafeTraces put a movable HEPA filter in its conference room, the air went from being changed three times an hour to ten times an hour.

You can buy a HEPA filter starting at less than $100 online or at hardware stores.

Experts like Professor Allen tell the I-Team, in order to make sure the unit is powerful enough for your space, you should look at the product description to find something called the Clean Air Delivery Rate, or CADR.

“My rule of thumb is that you want a CADR of 350 for every 500 square feet. That will give you five air changes per hour, or more,” said Allen.

And experts suggest that as employees return to their offices for the first time since the pandemic began, they ask their bosses a few questions about “air change” and ventilation.

“They should ask, ‘What have you done to make the space safer? Where is the ventilation and filtration system today?’ People should be transparent at this point. It’s people’s health and safety and lives that are at stake,” SafeTraces CEO Malmstrom told NBC4.

This post originally appeared on NBC Los Angeles. 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.

ASPIRE (Alliance for Sustainable & Practical IAQ in RE) Launches

New Consortium “Alliance for Sustainable & Practical IAQ in Real Estate” (ASPIRE) Launches, Provides Framework for Measurable, Sustainable Indoor Air Quality

Founding members include Awair, Clockworks Analytics, enVerid Systems, SafeTraces, and System2 Consulting

Boston, MA – June 14, 2021– Five leading indoor air quality (IAQ) organizations announced today the formation of a new consortium, the Alliance for Sustainable & Practical IAQ in Real Estate (ASPIRE), with the goal of helping commercial and institutional buildings sustainably achieve indoor air quality. ASPIRE aims to encourage a more comprehensive, performance-based and data-driven approach to IAQ for building owners, managers and operators. The founding consortium members include Awair, Clockworks Analytics, enVerid Systems, SafeTraces, and System2 Consulting.

“ASPIRE’s founding members share a vision that buildings should provide a positive occupant experience, promote health and safety, and operate efficiently and sustainably; and we believe that IAQ is an intrinsic component of all three of these objectives,” said Aaron Lapsley, Principal & Founder of System2 Consulting. “Despite widespread claims in the marketplace, we know that there is no easy-button, silver-bullet solution that will fully address IAQ in every building. Instead, ASPIRE aims to encourage a performance-based framework that will help building stakeholders make well-informed decisions and implement practical solutions for achieving healthy air quality in a manner that minimizes or eliminates the trade-offs with energy efficiency.”

As part of its charter, ASPIRE will provide market education on leading practices related to indoor air quality and its intersection with sustainability. ASPIRE’s framework addresses five objectives:

  1. Monitor and improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and ventilation systems
  2. Measure and reduce pathogen transmission and illness risk
  3. Reduce energy costs and carbon emissions
  4. Demonstrate success and leadership through certification
  5. Direct investment to the highest value opportunities and solutions

Nexus Labs, a smart building industry community, media and education group that publishes podcasts and newsletters on smart building technology, will introduce ASPIRE on the first episode of its new monthly broadcast series on June 16th at 11am ET. Hosted by James Dice, Nexus Labs’ founder, the webinar “A Data Driven Approach to IAQ” will feature a discussion of the consortium’s vision, goals, and framework. Register for the free webinar here.

“We look forward to a discussion with these five companies and expert IAQ voices that cuts through the hype to offer insights on how to make indoor environmental quality as measurable and actionable as energy and water usage in a building,” said James Dice, Founder, Nexus Labs. “Organizations are eager for an approach that mitigates pathogens and contaminants of concern such as CO2, VOCs, PM2.5, and where IAQ data can be tracked, shared and acted upon, in a context that meets ESG goals.”

“Every day our team at AirRated sees firsthand the benefits of using data to drive decisions for building design and operation to deliver good indoor air quality,” said Francesca Brady, CEO of AirRated. “Our AirScore certification serves as the quantitative benchmark against best practice guidance for IAQ. In many cases it also acts as validation of investment in building systems and clean air technologies/products that aim to create healthy, productive spaces that occupants of the built environment deserve. This data point has been a kitemark both for prospective and current building users to refer to when looking to understand the quality of indoor air in buildings. We are witnessing the industry shift its focus to performance-based certifications and standards, with tangible, meaningful and actionable results. That is why I am happy to support the ASPIRE consortium in their goal of promoting and educating the industry on a more comprehensive and information-first approach to improving and maintaining good indoor air quality.”

“Post-pandemic, the real-estate industry has learned it needs to shift rapidly towards performance-based air quality standards, measured all day, every day,” said Raefer Wallis, Founder of RESET. “Achieving this will require close collaboration between solution providers that can deliver measurable air quality results, without losing sight of global climate goals. This is exactly what ASPIRE was formed to achieve and we hope it will have a much much-needed catalyzing effect across the industry.”

Awair

“Our mission at Awair is to ensure everyone can breathe safely anywhere indoors,” said Dustin DeVan, CEO of Awair. “IAQ requires management on a real-time basis, as well as having the insights and integrations to address issues quickly. We are excited to join such a collaborative team to democratize air data and to ensure people’s safety, particularly as indoor air matters now more so than ever post-pandemic.”

Clockworks Analytics

“Increased awareness of the critical role of IAQ on building and occupant health – coupled with a proliferation of IAQ solutions, standards, and data collection over the past year – has resulted in a large education gap,” said Alex Grace, VP of Business Development at Clockworks Analytics. “We are excited to join with leaders in the building performance and IAQ space through ASPIRE and share our expertise in fault detection and diagnostics in order to help consumers make more informed IAQ decisions in their buildings.”

enVerid Systems 

“There has long been a tension between achieving indoor air quality goals and energy efficiency and sustainability goals,” said Christian Weeks, CEO of enVerid Systems. “Buildings now need to solve for both. Working as part of ASPIRE we hope to educate building owners and operators on the opportunities to adopt performance-based design standards and advanced filtration solutions to enable healthy and sustainable buildings.”

SafeTraces

“The global pandemic has put a spotlight on the critical importance of IAQ to public health, as well as the insufficiency of our current paradigm for IAQ systems, regulations, and standards in public buildings,” said Erik Malmstrom, CEO of SafeTraces. “SafeTraces is thrilled to join forces with the most innovative technology companies in the built environment and to leverage our technology for advancing performance-based, data-driven metrics for combatting indoor respiratory infection.”

This post originally appeared on aspireiaq.com. Read it here.

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.

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.

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