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 www.safetraces.com 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.”

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.

From Best Practice to Policy

Developing a COVID-19 Prevention Program

Written by Mark Drozdov | April 12, 2021

For over a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has destabilized life around the world, particularly in the built environment. According to a paper posted in April 2020 to the preprint website medRxiv, COVID-19 infection is 18 times more likely indoors than outdoors. The virus presents a lethal, unpredictable health and safety risk due to its high degree of infectiousness, its multiple modes of transmission, and its high incidence of asymptomatic infections (approximately 40–45 percent) that make contact tracing and other response strategies more challenging to conduct. While vaccines provide cause for optimism, their less than 100 percent efficacy, the mistakes in mass vaccination efforts, and rapid mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will necessitate a comprehensive approach to infection control that does not exclusively rely on vaccination for the foreseeable future.

This article highlights the evolution of scientific knowledge regarding COVID-19 from initial outbreak to policymaking and identifies the best industrial hygiene practices that IHs in the field should follow regarding COVID-19 risk mitigation.

Developing and implementing a strong infection control plan has never been more urgent, not just as a matter of best practice but increasingly as a matter of regulatory compliance. In 2020, OSHA provided recommended guidance, allowing states and counties to establish their own requirements. The ensuing response was uneven, with some states like California, Oregon, Michigan, and Virginia promulgating emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 in workplaces while others relied on guidelines and recommendations. Critics charged that the overall OSHA response was fragmented, confusing, and ineffective, triggering worker complaints, mass outbreaks, and calls for reform.

As of early 2021, the Biden administration has signaled a much more active approach toward OSHA regulation, enforcement, and funding. On Jan. 21, President Biden issued an “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety” stating that the administration would:

  • provide revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • implement emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 deemed necessary by March 15
  • review OSHA enforcement efforts including short-, medium-, and long-term changes to better protect workers and ensure equity in enforcement
  • launch a national program to focus on OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on violations that put the largest numbers of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles
  • coordinate with the Department of Labor’s Office of Public Affairs and Office of Public Engagement and all regional OSHA offices to conduct a multilingual outreach effort to workers

Concurrently, several states and counties have signaled a more aggressive approach to protecting worker health and safety. In late January 2021, Virginia became the first state to enact a permanent standard on COVID-19 in workplaces. Among other provisions, Virginia requires employers to comprehensively evaluate the hazards of all job tasks, create infectious disease preparedness and response plans, and maintain air handling systems in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and ASHRAE standards. Experts believe that Virginia could be a model for a forthcoming wave of federal and state-level OSHA permanent standards, complemented by heightened enforcement.

COVID-19 Prevention Program Development

In recently published guidance, OSHA noted that the most effective COVID-19 prevention programs involve conducting a hazard assessment; identifying measures that limit the spread of COVID-19; adopting measures to ensure that workers who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home; and protecting workers who raise concerns about COVID-19 from retaliation.

For purposes of this discussion, I will focus on the first two aspects of COVID-19 prevention programs: hazard assessment and mitigation measures.

Hazard Assessment
According to OSHA, a hazard assessment, also referred to as a job hazard analysis or JHA, consists of the following process:

  1. collect existing information about workplace hazards
  2. inspect the workplace for safety hazards
  3. identify health hazards
  4. conduct incident investigations
  5. identify hazards associated with emergency and nonroutine situations
  6. characterize the nature of identified hazards, identify interim control measures, and prioritize the hazards for control

OSHA has divided job tasks into four potential risk exposure levels:

  • Lower risk: Jobs that do not require close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with other people. Workers in this category have minimal occupational contact with the public and other coworkers.
  • Medium risk: Jobs that require either frequent close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) or sustained close contact with other people in areas with community transmission.
  • High risk: Jobs with a high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2.
  • Very high risk: Jobs with a very high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures.

Mitigation Measures: Limiting Spread of COVID-19
Subsequently, an employer must implement a hazard prevention and control process consisting of the following steps:

  1. identify control options
  2. select control options
  3. develop and update a hazard control plan
  4. select controls to protect workers during nonroutine operations and emergencies
  5. implement selected controls in the workplace
  6. follow up to confirm that controls are effective

Applying the hierarchy of controls for COVID-19 is fundamental to hazard prevention and control. Case reports and epidemiological studies have indicated that the primary means of SARS-CoV-2 disease transmission is the indoor spread of exhaled droplet aerosols. Consequently, the AIHA guidance document “Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 Using Engineering Controls” states, “Engineering controls that can keep infectious aerosols at very low levels indoors offer the greatest promise to protect non-healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations as we reopen our businesses and workplaces.”

Figure 1. Relative risk reduction of engineering controls and PPE. Source: AIHA, “Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 Using Engineering Controls”.

AIHA emphasizes the advantage of engineering controls relative to administrative controls and PPE on the grounds of efficacy and cost. An analysis in AIHA’s guidance document demonstrates that engineering controls can achieve a greater reduction in transmission risk than N95 respirators. Ventilation that provides 4.5 air changes per hour, a rate achievable in many buildings, reduces COVID-19 transmission to the same extent as N95 respirators. The reality is that engineering controls are less prone to human error than administrative controls and PPE. AIHA also highlights the high cost of PPE, which, in addition to PPE shortages and supply interruptions, makes off-the-shelf, reliable, and effective engineering controls better long-term solutions for preventing disease transmission. And as I stated in my article “Managing Indoor Air Quality Amid COVID-19,” which was published in the October 2020 issue of Restoration and Remediation magazine, “It is critical to remember that 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.”

Mitigation Measures: Dilution Ventilation and Filtration
ASHRAE’s April 2020 position document on infectious aerosols (PDF) states that based on risk assessments, the use of specific HVAC strategies supported by the evidence-based literature should be considered, including the following:

  • Enhanced filtration (higher minimum efficiency reporting value [MERV] filters over code minimums in occupant-dense and/or higher-risk spaces)
  • Upper-room 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, AIHA, and other leading authorities emphasize that selecting, installing, and evaluating specific engineering controls should be based on a site-specific risk assessment in consultation with “a knowledgeable mechanical engineer and industrial hygienist familiar with ventilation controls and infection control,” as explained in the AIHA guidance document. Every building is unique, conditions and risk are dynamic, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

Nevertheless, research published in the American Journal of Infection Control indicates that dilution ventilation and filtration emerge in peer-reviewed scientific literature and public health guidance as the most consistently recommended engineering controls, not only for SARS-CoV-2 but also for other respiratory viruses like influenza, tuberculosis, and rhinovirus. The logic is clear and compelling: increasing outdoor air intakes, air exchange rates, and filtration levels to the highest level an HVAC system can sustainably handle reduces the time and space for airborne pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 to linger, spread, and infect others, similar to the “infinite dilution” benefits of outdoor environments.

For generations, healthcare facilities have embedded dilution ventilation and filtration in their infection control systems and controls. Now, the pandemic is forcing non-healthcare facilities to operate based on the same core principles, representing a significant departure from traditional building operations optimized for cost, efficiency, and occupant comfort. Meanwhile, federal and state OSHA authorities have thrust ventilation and filtration controls front and center in their updated guidelines, recommendations, and standards given scientific consensus on the importance of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Verification of Engineering Controls
Even within the scope of dilution ventilation and filtration-focused controls, the hazard prevention and control process is not straightforward due to often-competing health and safety, engineering, and financial considerations. For example, what is the relative risk reduction of increasing the volume of outside air, installing enhanced filtration in central HVAC systems, and using standalone HEPA-filtered air cleaners? Which of these controls are possible within the mechanical system’s design and operational capabilities? Will increased outside air introduce high levels of humidity, thereby causing other health and safety risks like mold and bacterial growth in the HVAC system, ducts, and occupied areas of the building? What is the capability of fans in the HVAC system to handle increased pressure load from increased filtration, and what will be the implications for maintenance, filter changes, and air leakage around the enhanced filtration? And are the benefits of these controls worth the costs associated with implementing them?

Moreover, the lack of a widely accepted quantitative standard for ventilation endorsed by OSHA, ASHRAE, and other leading authorities creates further ambiguity for developing, implementing, evaluating, and enforcing critical engineering controls.

Ideally, robust analytical tools and diagnostic solutions should guide the hazard prevention and control process and help assess costs and benefits. However, the pandemic has exposed a critical gap in the toolbox of industrial hygienists and mechanical engineers. Existing solutions fall into two main categories: quantitatively rigorous theoretical approaches like computational fluid dynamic modeling and Wells-Riley mathematical solutions, and qualitatively rigorous applied approaches heavily reliant on expert feedback. What has been lacking is a quantitatively rigorous applied approach capable of verifying the efficacy of engineering controls in real-world indoor environments.

However, technology-enabled solutions are emerging to fill this gap. One recent example is a diagnostic solution leveraging DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic airborne pathogen mobility and exposure levels. This type of technology-enabled solution has the potential to integrate a layer of science- and data-based verification into the hazard prevention and control process and to round out traditional approaches.

Critical Components

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a once-in-a-century public health risk, which is particularly acute in the built environment. In response, federal and state-level OSHA authorities are advancing increased regulation and enforcement actions to protect workers. Identification, assessment, and prevention of hazards, and the implementation of controls, are critical for developing and implementing infection control plans that are consistent with best practices and compliant with regulations. Given the airborne transmission risk of SARS-CoV-2, dilution ventilation and enhanced filtration should be critical components of a hazard control plan, strengthened by emerging technology that can verify efficacy throughout the decision-making process. IH and OEHS professionals should employ the scientific knowledge gained during this pandemic by utilizing the best industrial hygiene practices and means to verify ventilation and filtration controls as part of COVID-19 prevention plans. We are all under an obligation to apply effective infection control and management tools that demonstrate the effectiveness of the actions taken.

This article originally appeared in the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) publication, the Synergist. Read it here.

Resources

AIHA: “Joint Consensus Statement on Addressing the Aerosol Transmission of SARS CoV-2 and Recommendations for Preventing Occupational Exposures” (PDF, February 2021).
AIHA: “Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 Using Engineering Controls” (PDF, August 2020).
ASHRAE: “ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols” (PDF, April 2020).
OSHA: Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs, “Hazard Identification and Assessment.
Restoration & Remediation: “How to Manage Indoor Air Quality Amid COVID-19 (October 2020).
Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board: “Final Permanent Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus That Causes COVID-19” (PDF, January 2021).
The White House: “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety” (January 2021).

Artificial Fog Does Not Appear To Increase Airborne COVID-19 Disease Transmission Risk In Entertainment Productions

New study, sponsored in part by IATSA Local 891, shows that artificial fog may even reduce levels of suspended respiratory aerosols

Date: April 6, 2021

PLEASANTON, Calif., April 6, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — A new study released by Aura Health and Safety, The Phylmar Group, and SafeTraces, Inc, a market leader in DNA-based technology solutions, suggests that artificial fog has no negative impact on suspension of aerosols in entertainment venues and productions. This is great news for the film, television and live entertainment industries, with a US market size in excess of $700 billion.

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a once-in-a-century crisis that has led to unprecedented health and safety challenges in the built environment, including the entertainment industries. Scientific, medical, and public health experts, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), have stated that SARS-CoV-2 is a highly infectious virus that is primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets and aerosols. Indoor environments face significant airborne exposure risk, with enclosed areas, prolonged exposure, and poor ventilation high risk factors common in many entertainment venues.

As the entertainment industry, trade associations, and labor unions prepare to reopen venues and stage new productions, there has been significant concern whether artificial fog increases the airborne transmission risk of diseases such as COVID-19. Artificial fog is widely used in the entertainment industries to enhance lighting, as a visual effect, and to create a specific sense of mood or atmosphere as it disperses across densely occupied venues such as concert halls and theaters, rendering it a suspected risk factor for airborne disease transmission.

For the joint study “COVID-19 Implications of the Physical Interaction of Artificial Fog on Respiratory Aerosols“, Aura Health and Safety occupational and public health scientists used the aerosol-based veriDART™ solution by SafeTraces, the most powerful risk assessment tool for airborne pathogens like SARS-CoV-2. It leverages DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic aerosol mobility and exposure in order to identify high-risk infection hotspots and transmission routes, assess ventilation and filtration efficacy, and inform remediations with a rigorous science-based, data-driven methodology.

The scientists released unique DNA-tagged tracer particles with and without glycerin- or glycol-containing artificial fog into a closed environment. They took air samples at regular intervals to determine DNA tracer degradation over time. The study found that none of the artificial fog applications increased the time that respiratory aerosols remained suspended in the air. In fact, artificial fog containing glycol actually decreased suspension time, indicating that this fog application reduces the time respiratory aerosols remain suspended in the air to impact disease transmission.

The highly significant finding that artificial fog does not increase, and may even reduce, the risk of airborne transmission of diseases from respiratory aerosols has important implications, as it directly affects the entertainment industries’ readiness to re-open and their ability to generate revenue and create jobs.

“Over the past several years the use of atmospheric smoke and fog has been on the rise with many in our membership expressing concern over health concerns around the products used, and any lasting effects of its use. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the industry in March of 2020 one of the many concerns brought forward to Local 891 – concerns heard throughout the industry North America wide – was, what happens when someone who may have the disease releases aerosols into the fog on a set?” asked Keith Woods, President of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSA) Local 891 labor union.”Given this, it seemed natural to support a study of this sort to help get some answers to this most pressing of concerns. It gives us some relief to know that artificial fog does not appear to allow the released aerosols to suspend more than normal,” stated Woods.

About SafeTraces:
SafeTraces is committed to ensuring the highest safety standards for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the medication we take by harnessing the power of DNA. We provide market leading, DNA-enabled diagnostic solutions for indoor air quality, food and pharmaceutical traceability, and sanitation verification. Information is available at www.safetraces.com.

About Aura Health and Safety:
Aura Health and Safety provides specialized industrial hygiene and environmental public health consulting to a range of industries. Aura has been working with the film and television industry for several years, conducting artificial fog research, indoor air quality investigations, and most recently COVID-19 plans. Information is available at www.aurahealthsafety.com.

About the Phylmar Group:
The Phylmar Group facilitates environmental health and safety/sustainability forums in the areas of biopharmaceuticals, apparel/ footwear and occupational health and safety. Phylmar monitors, analyzes and advocates during rule making regarding federal and state regulations, and members have a private channel for information exchange and networking along with opportunities for continuing professional education and mentoring. Information is available at www.phylmar.com.

This post originally appeared on PR Newswire. Read it here.

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

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

Written by Erik Malmstrom | April 01, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

Emerging Technology for Verifying Engineering Controls

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

Written by Erik Malmstrom | March 30, 2021

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

Three critical facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technical advances

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

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

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

SafeTraces’ technology consists of two main components.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quantifying risk

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

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

UL and SafeTraces Launch Program To Help K-12 Schools Reopen Safely

Indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration verification and infection control program helps enhance student, teacher and staff safety.

Date: March 26, 2021

NORTHBROOK, Ill.March 26, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — UL, the global safety science leader, and SafeTraces, a market leader in DNA-based technology solutions, today launched a comprehensive program for indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration verification and infection control for K-12 schools. The collaboration combines UL’s indoor environmental quality verification services expertise with SafeTraces’ veriDART™ solution, the first aerosol-based diagnostic solution for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy for infection control.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), SARS-CoV-2 is a highly infectious virus that is primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets and aerosols. UL and SafeTraces are combining forces to address this transmission risk with a program specifically to assess and mitigate health and safety risk in K-12 schools.

Utilizing UL’s Healthy Buildings services, enabling building owners and operators to assess indoor environmental quality, with the SafeTraces veriDART™ solution, a risk assessment tool for airborne pathogens, including coronaviruses, the program provides insight to help K-12 schools reopen safely.  SafeTraces veriDART™ leverages patented DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic aerosol mobility and exposure in order to identify high-risk infection hotspots and transmission routes, assess ventilation and filtration efficacy, and inform remediations with a rigorous science-based, data-driven methodology.

The SafeTraces program consists of a comprehensive building data review, HVAC system inspection, air quality testing, ventilation assessment, exhaust system verification and SafeTraces veriDART™ infection risk assessment. Schools will receive a final report that consolidates results, analysis, conclusions and recommendations with the opportunity for recurring UL Verification and ongoing support.

“The pandemic has introduced a heightened interest in health and wellness among educators. Ensuring that school buildings support student and staff health now tops the priority list for school systems across the U.S.,” said Sean McCrady, director in UL’s Assets and Sustainability, Real Estate and Properties division. “Reducing disease transmission risk is especially important in our schools and places of learning where good ventilation and indoor air quality are imperative.  UL’s collaboration with SafeTraces helps schools address this head on to aid them in creating a safe and healthy learning environment,” McCrady said.

“How do we verify that air and airflow are safe? In the face of a highly transmissible and potentially lethal airborne pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, this fundamental question has never been more important and the stakes have never been higher for our students, teachers, staff, and communities,” said SafeTraces CEO Erik Malmstrom. “Unequivocally, SafeTraces and UL’s program establishes a benchmark for K-12 school safety verification. We’re thrilled to collaborate with a market leader like UL to support such an important mission.”

For more information on the program and to sign up visit: https://www.safetraces.com/school-ventilation-and-filtration/

This post originally appeared on PR Newswire. Read it here.

SafeTraces and SGS Galson Deliver Groundbreaking veriDART™ Solution for Indoor Air Quality

The first and only liquid aerosol-based solution for verifying air ventilation and filtration engineering controls is available from SGS Galson

Date: December 15, 2020

PLEASANTON, Calif., Dec. 15, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — SafeTraces Inc., the leader in next generation DNA-enabled technology solutions, announced that it is working with SGS Galson. This collaboration enables environmental consultants and end users within the built environment to purchase SafeTraces’ groundbreaking indoor air quality solution, veriDART™, through SGS Galson, the world leader in industrial hygiene analysis and monitoring solutions.

Infectious disease control experts, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), agree about the importance of airborne and aerosol-based transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The industrial hygiene and mechanical engineering communities, including the AIHA and ASHRAE, also regard air ventilation and filtration engineering controls to mitigate airborne exposure risk indoors as important. However, the current pandemic has highlighted a critical gap in the toolbox of mechanical engineers and industrial hygienists: a science-based, data-driven diagnostic solution for validating and verifying engineering controls in real-world indoor environments.

At the cutting edge of health science, building science, and data science, the veriDART by SafeTraces is the first and only diagnostic solution for verifying engineering controls for aerosol contaminants. Developed with the support of the National Institutes of Health and world-class experts at MIT and Stanford, veriDART leverages patented DNA-tagged particles that safely mimic the mobility of airborne pathogens to identify hotspots, assess ventilation and filtration, and verify remediations with empirical data. veriDART’s data analytics provide a level of scientific and empirical rigor often lacking in engineering control decisions that have significant occupational health and safety, as well as financial, consequences, both short- and long-term.

SafeTraces’ agreement with SGS Galson will focus on national and eventual global distribution of veriDART to meet overwhelming demand from multinational companies, commercial real estate owners, and public infrastructure managers, among others, amidst unprecedented indoor air quality challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective immediately, SGS Galson will offer veriDART as part of its comprehensive COVID-19 Recovery Assistance Services covering indoor air quality, surface decontamination, and worker hygiene.

SafeTraces’ CEO Erik Malmstrom stated, “COVID-19 has created an unprecedented occupational health and safety risk that has led to massive disruptions in the built environment. Those responsible for facility management and safety have lacked effective solutions for assessing and mitigating airborne exposure risk, which is key to keeping buildings open and safe during the pandemic and beyond. SafeTraces is excited to be collaborating with a world-class leader like SGS to meet the huge and urgent need for veriDART across the US and world.”

Lisa Swab, SGS Galson Laboratory Director, said, “A major aspect of our mission is to provide data to protect people from hazardous exposures.  Collaborating with SafeTraces by offering veriDART will immensely help our clients provide remediation solutions during these perilous time to the built environment.”

For more information on the veriDART by SafeTraces, contact info@safetraces.com, or visit www.safetraces.com.

This post originally appeared on PRN Newswire. Read it here.

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
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