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.

  7.  Ibid

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 Read it here.

Health, Safety & Wellness in Commercial Real Estate’s New Normal

September 16, 2021 | By: Erik Malmstrom

As the latest spike in COVID-19 infections continues to complicate and in some cases derail return to office, school, and campus plans, I remember discussions in the early days of the pandemic with several major building owners and operators who ardently believed that the pandemic would run its course by the end of 2020. Back then we discussed the pandemic ultimately being eradicated by mass vaccination, and that it would not have lasting impacts on the built environment. Essentially the strategy was to survive the choppy waters of 2020 in anticipation of a “return to normal” by 2021.

A year and a half later, three realities have become clear. First, COVID-19 is still with us in 2021 – in a recent Nature poll, 89 percent of scientists felt that SARS-CoV-2 is either very likely or likely to become an endemic virus.[1] Second, while evidence suggests that vaccination provides strong protection against SARS-CoV-2, it is not a silver-bullet solution given unevenness in adoption, access, and efficacy. Third, there are already strong indications that the pandemic is driving the built environment to a new normal, especially as many offices, schools, and campuses confront prolonged vacancies, partial occupancies, and never-ending fits and starts of reopenings and shutdowns.

One key element of this new normal will be the increasing prominence of health, safety, and wellness as value driver in real estate, both with respect to buildings themselves and the people occupying them. Prior to the pandemic, the “Healthy Building” movement had been gaining steady momentum, reflected in the rise of the WELL Building certification and the popularity of Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity by Joe Allen and John Macomber at Harvard. “Healthy Buildings” thinking is premised on the organizing framework that people spend a majority of their lives indoors, indoor environmental quality has a significant impact on health outcomes, and improved health outcomes ultimately flow to a company’s bottom line via productivity boosts.[2]

The pandemic has powerfully validated the Healthy Building paradigm and turbocharged demand for higher indoor environmental quality standards due to the significance and urgency of the health and safety, financial, and liability stakes for both owners/employers and tenants/employees. In the context of a highly transmissible airborne disease like SARS-CoV-2, the critical elements of indoor environmental quality are ventilation, filtration, and indoor air quality. Along with vaccination and masking, public health and EHS experts emphasize ventilation and filtration as central pillars to effective infection control. Beyond COVID-19, the benefits of improved ventilation and filtration extend to preventing common respiratory infections like influenza as well as improving cognition, performance, and productivity within indoor spaces.

However, the pandemic has exposed a pervasive trust deficit regarding workplace safety. 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.[3] Whether these concerns are justified or not is difficult to discern because building safety is largely a black box for SARS-CoV-2 and airborne diseases. The public has little visibility on health conditions of indoor spaces. Moreover, building owners and operators often have little understanding of health risk in their portfolios due to limitations in measuring risk and verifying controls in real-world buildings.

Our company has a unique lens on this challenge. We’ve developed the first commercial diagnostic solution for testing and verifying real-world ventilation and filtration performance for aerosol contaminants like SARS-CoV-2, leveraging DNA-tagged aerosol tracers that safely simulate airborne pathogen mobility and exposure. During the pandemic, we’ve been supporting large multinationals, commercial real estate owners, and public entities to assess and mitigate health and safety risk in their facilities and then help communicate our independent science-based data to employees and tenants.

What have our field assessments taught us about risk levels in everyday spaces? First, risk varies dramatically within buildings, across buildings, and across time. Second, assumed understanding of risk levels inevitably varies from the ground truth. Third, enclosed spaces with multiple occupants and prolonged occupancy often indicate the highest levels of risk and therefore demand the greatest attention. Fourth, the simplest, cheapest, and most accessible solutions often prove to be the most effective. Fifth, money is frequently wasted on mitigation strategies and solutions demonstrating little to no measurable benefit.

In the end, perhaps the most significant tail of the pandemic will be embedding health, safety, and wellness firmly into the core value equation of buildings. Key bellwethers that we’re already seeing are health, safety, and wellness increasingly factoring into future leasing and safety risk becoming more heavily incorporated into building codes, rating standards, and compliance requirements. In the new normal, those who are proactive about prioritizing, improving, and differentiating on IAQ, ventilation, and filtration are likely to be rewarded by the market; those who are complacent risk being caught flat-footed.

This article originally appeared on CRE Insight Journal. Read it here.


  2. Joe Allen and John Macomber, Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity. HUP. 2020.

Three Organizations Partner to Help K–12 Schools Assess Indoor Air Quality

By Matt Jones

Date: September 3, 2021

Johnson Controls announced this week that it is contributing its OpenBlue Healthy Buildings portfolio to a pre-existing partnership between two science and safety organizations. UL and SafeTraces joined forces in March 2021 to begin evaluating the effectiveness of indoor air quality and HVAC systems, as well as infection control strategies, in K–12 schools. The three companies will use science-based indoor air quality and infection risk assessments to evaluate mechanical systems’ effectiveness in schools.

The program will allow school administrators to use science-based performance data to confirm that schools meet indoor air quality standards and establish safe environments for teachers and students. Administrators will also be able to collaborate with Johnson Controls to target gaps in their systems; schools can then use data from UL and SafeTraces as a guide to create a plan for a long-term clean air strategy. These third-party, data-driven air quality assessments will allow schools to improve student and faculty health as well as build public trust and confidence.

“Education authorities, like many of us, are aware of and more responsive to the critical need to ensure healthy school buildings. But there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy because school districts and the buildings they run are not homogenous,” said Nate Manning, Johnson Controls’ President of Building Solutions North America. “Science-based data ꟷ from air quality and risk assessments to building connected technology solutions ꟷ will drive each component of this program, which will bring peace of mind to students, teachers, and families as schools reopen.”

Johnson Controls’ OpenBlue Schools solution provides a full suite of connected solutions for sustainability, safety and security across a full building’s entire lifecycle. UL’s Healthy Buildings program offers indoor environmental quality, energy and sustainability services, particularly comprehensive data reviews, HVAC system inspections, air quality testing and ventilation assessments, exhaust system verification and more. SafeTraces offers an aerosol-based solution to evaluate HVAC system performance using DNA-tagged bioaerosol tracers that simulate airborne pathogen mobility and exposure.

“K-12 administrators and their facility managers are held to the highest standards of safety and rapidly evolving health regulation like never before. Through UL’s Healthy Building program, we have learned how the facility leaders who manage what they measure have far greater success managing risk than those who only address issues as they arise,” said Sean McCrady, director in UL’s Assets and Sustainability Performance, Real Estate and Properties group. “Not only will we equip K-12 administrators with independent evidence of the efficacy of their systems, but we can also now give them guidance to enhance their building operations into the future.”

This post originally appeared on Read it here.

Healthy air, healthy schools: Johnson Controls, UL and SafeTraces partner to help K-12 schools assess indoor air quality with leading science and technology

– K-12 administrators can use science-based performance data backed by groundbreaking technology to verify schools meet indoor air quality standards, mitigate infection risk, and enable safe environments for students, teachers, and staff.

MILWAUKEESept. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI), the global leader for smart, healthy and sustainable buildings, announced it will pair its industry-leading OpenBlue Healthy Buildings portfolio with the new collaboration between UL and SafeTraces. In March 2021, UL, the global safety science leader, and SafeTraces, a market leader in DNA-based safety technology, announced a new program to evaluate the effectiveness of their indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration systems, and infection control strategies for airborne diseases including coronaviruses, in K-12 schools.

Through the program, Johnson Controls, UL and SafeTraces will leverage science-based indoor air quality and infection risk assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of mechanical systems in K-12 schools. Johnson Controls is the first in its industry to leverage data provided by UL and SafeTraces to collaborate with K-12 administrators to address any gaps and create a blueprint for a comprehensive, long-term clean air strategy.

Johnson Controls offers K-12 administrators tailored services for the full building lifecycle through OpenBlue Schools, a complete suite of connected solutions that deliver impactful sustainability, new student experiences, and respectful safety and security that combines more than 135 years of building experience with cutting-edge technology.

“Education authorities, like many of us, are aware of and more responsive to the critical need to ensure healthy school buildings. But there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy because school districts and the buildings they run are not homogenous,” said Nate Manning, Johnson Controls’ President of Building Solutions North America. “Science-based data ꟷ from air quality and risk assessments to building connected technology solutions ꟷ will drive each component of this program, which will bring peace of mind to students, teachers, and families as schools reopen.”

Transformative Collaboration: Connecting the Dots

Working together, these three leaders in healthy buildings offer K-12 schools a holistic program to create healthy classroom and campus environments.

“K-12 administrators and their facility managers are held to the highest standards of safety and rapidly evolving health regulation like never before. Through UL’s Healthy Building program, we have learned how the facility leaders who manage what they measure have far greater success managing risk than those who only address issues as they arise,” said Sean McCrady, director in UL’s Assets and Sustainability Performance, Real Estate and Properties group. “Not only will we equip K-12 administrators with independent evidence of the efficacy of their systems, but we can also now give them guidance to enhance their building operations into the future.”

UL’s Healthy Building program provides indoor environmental quality, energy and sustainability services for the built environment. In this instance, UL’s assessment consists of a comprehensive data review, HVAC system inspection, air quality testing, ventilation assessment, exhaust system verification, and risk assessment via SafeTraces veriDART® technology.

A core component of UL’s Healthy Building programveriDART® by SafeTraces is the first aerosol-based solution for verifying HVAC system performance for health and safety in real world environments. With support from the National Institutes of Health and other leading research partners, veriDART leverages patented DNA-tagged bioaerosol tracers that safely simulate airborne pathogen mobility and exposure in order to identify potential infection hotspots, test ventilation and filtration efficacy, and inform safety and financial planning with independent science-based performance data.

“The question on every parent’s, teacher’s, and staff member’s mind today is – is my school safe to return to and how will we ensure it’s safe in the future?” said Erik Malmstrom, SafeTraces CEO. “veriDART is the best equipped solution in the marketplace to answer these questions for SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and other airborne diseases. We’re thrilled to partner with Johnson Controls and UL to deliver the gold standard program for school health and safety during the pandemic and beyond.”

Serving schools for well over a century, Johnson Controls is the industry leader in smart buildings and connected technologies and oversees the full lifecycle of building operations for school administrators. For example, Johnson Controls OpenBlue Schools integrates building IT, communications, administration and classroom learning systems with core building systems to create smart, connected schools. Examples of OpenBlue Schools solutions include predictive maintenance, contract tracing, social distance monitoring, mask detection and skin temperature screening.

Delivering Data-Powered Confidence

“Johnson Controls is the global leader in building data, UL is the global safety science leader, and SafeTraces is an emerging leader in building performance verification. Together, we can deliver science-based insights and actionable data analytics with Johnson Controls complete suite of connected solutions to help administrators manage operations more systematically, efficiently, and sustainably. Through our combined capabilities, we can empower building owners to transform their spaces and provide healthy environments confidently. Keeping our schools safe is imperative, but only the beginning. The future possibilities are boundless.” said Manning.

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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.

SafeTraces Launches HVAC Safety Verification Service With EHS, IAQ and Engineering Leaders

UL, Tetra Tech, RHP Risk Management, Citadel EHS, and Universal Engineering Sciences will be flagship partners in delivering the first safety verification service of HVAC system performance focused on airborne pathogens.

Date: July 15, 2021

PLEASANTON, Calif.July 15, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — SafeTraces, Inc., a market leader in DNA-based safety technology solutions, today launched its HVAC Safety Verification Service for commercial real estate, education, healthcare, and other built environments. This service will be available immediately for building owners and operators via flagship partners UL, Tetra Tech, RHP Risk Management, Citadel EHS, Universal Engineering Sciences, and a national network of certified professionals. Reflecting the need to test and verify HVAC safety on a recurring basis in order to effectively combat respiratory infection from SARS-CoV-2 and other airborne diseases, this service will build on SafeTraces’ groundbreaking veriDART® solution, currently being employed by major corporate, commercial real estate, and government clients across the United States.

Respiratory infections represent one of the most significant public health risks in the world. COVID-19 has been responsible for nearly 4 million deaths, nearly 200 million cases, and an estimated $1 trillion in monthly economic loss globally. Beyond COVID-19, the annual direct and indirect cost of influenza and other respiratory infections has been estimated at over $50 billion just in the United States alone. Scientific evidence indicates that ventilation, filtration, and disinfection are critical mitigation strategies. However, most public buildings lack the ability to test and verify performance of their HVAC and mechanical systems for airborne pathogens due to limitations in existing diagnostic assessment tools.

Offered quarterly, semi-annually, or annually, SafeTraces’ HVAC Safety Verification Service leverages the company’s veriDART solution. Developed with support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and leading technical experts, veriDART employs patented DNA-tagged bioaerosol tracers that safely simulate respiratory emission of airborne pathogens in real-world spaces. Resulting data helps identify potential infection hotspots, verify ventilation and filtration system performance for mitigating occupational exposures to airborne pathogens, and inform critical safety, engineering, and financial decisions with independent, science-based, performance data.

SafeTraces’ HVAC Safety Verification Service addresses a number of urgent needs for building owners and operators: guiding major capital investments and operating expenditures, satisfying increasing federal and state OSHA regulatory compliance requirements, enhancing existing IAQ and IEQ programs, gaining credits for leading building certification and verification programs, reducing insurance premiums and legal liability, and incorporating findings into employee and tenant communications to strengthen public confidence in workplace safety.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed a problem in plain sight: how unprepared and vulnerable many public buildings are to transmission of airborne pathogens due to inadequate ventilation, filtration, and other critical engineering controls,” said Erik Malmstrom, CEO of SafeTraces. “SafeTraces is thrilled to partner with UL, Tetra Tech, RHP Risk Management, Citadel EHS, Universal Engineering Sciences, and a national network of certified professionals in order to provide a powerful, practical, and cost-effective service to regularly test and verify the health and safety of real-world spaces in a way that has never been possible before and that will ultimately save lives and money.”

“Tetra Tech is pleased to be a strategic partner with SafeTraces,” said Tetra Tech CEO Dan Batrack. “We look forward to providing our clients with this advanced testing technology that supports our High Performance Buildings Group’s mission of healthy and sustainable projects.”

“The use of veriDART’s DNA-tracer technology allows RHP Risk Management’s Industrial Hygienists to test and validate the efficacy of building ventilation systems at controlling indoor aerosol mobility,” said Jacob Persky, Principal of RHP Risk Management. “With this technology RHP provides clients with actionable data to quantify the risk reduction provided by improved engineering controls like filter upgrades or increased amounts of outside air. The technology also helps to identify ‘hot spots’ and areas of concern where system improvements are needed. The technology behind veriDART® puts RHP’s ventilation assessment services at the forefront of the IH profession and gives our clients peace of mind when managing buildings and worksites in a post-COVID world.”

“Citadel EHS is proud to partner with SafeTraces to deliver their HVAC Safety Verification Services, leveraging the groundbreaking veriDART® solution, the market leading solution for verifying safe indoor airflow,” said Loren Witkin, CEO of Citadel EHS. “For the past nearly 30 years, Citadel EHS has provided science-based, cost-effective solutions to our clients to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of their employees, vendors, guests, and visitors. Our strategic partnership with SafeTraces provides Citadel and our clients with a unique and truly cutting-edge diagnostic tool to make informed decisions.  As we like to say, SafeTraces makes the invisible, visible. ”

“COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we look at indoor air quality, and our clients are looking for ways to best assess their HVAC systems for both performance efficacy and optimization in removing infectious agents,” said Michelle McIntyre, Corporate Director of Occupational Health & Safety at Universal Engineering Sciences. “We are excited to include veriDART® as part of our comprehensive indoor air quality service offerings to help our clients maintain a healthy and safe workplace for their employees.”

About SafeTraces, Inc.
SafeTraces is committed to ensuring the highest safety standards for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the medicines we take by harnessing the power of DNA. We provide market-leading safety technology solutions for indoor air quality and safety, sanitation verification, and food and pharmaceutical traceability. Learn more at and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

This post originally appeared on PR Newswire. Read 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.”


“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.”


“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 Read it here.