Healthy Air Episode #6

HA 1 |Indoor Air Quality

Episode #6
Improving a building’s impact on human cognition and health | Simon Turner – Founder of Building Cognition LLC

In this episode, Simon Turner shares the biggest changes he’s seen in buildings throughout his career. Simon’s interest for the past 30 years has been the impact of buildings and their features on human cognition and health. He served as the CEO of Healthy Buildings International – a company he grew and sold after 32 years in the industry – as well as his current role as Building Cognition, where he helps CEOs and real estate executives find ways to make their buildings more productive.

Simon has credentials in LEED AP and WELL AP, holds an HND in Applied Biology from Nottingham City University, and was recently honored as a Life Member of the Building Owners and Managers Association.

Keeping air safe has never been more important. Now that we are in the next normal, it is critical that the air we breathe in shared indoor spaces is healthy and safe for continued occupancy. Are we ready to face this challenge and mitigate airborne exposure risk indoors? Welcome to Healthy Air, a podcast that talks about the future of buildings and how to keep air safe and healthy. Keep up with the latest industry trends, latest technologies, and regulatory changes with your host, Erik Malmstrom, industry experts, and the SafeTraces team here on Healthy Air.

SHOW NOTES:

  • An overview of Simon’s background [1:00]
  • How Simon got started in the indoor air quality industry [1:42]
  • A history of how the awareness around this industry started [3:54]
  • How the pandemic has affected the indoor air quality industry [8:30]
  • Commercial Real Estate and how the industry is responding to the pandemic [11:45]
  • Why ventilation is so important in mitigating risk [14:46]
  • The dollars and cents of indoor air quality [20:07]
  • How are building owners validating how well a building is ventilated [22:20]
  • The implications of building indoor air quality for public health [24:55]
  • Looking back at the last 30 years, what changes can we anticipate in the next 10 years [30:02]
  • What resources Simon uses to stay up to speed in his own knowledge [33:30]
  • How listeners can follow Simon [35:34]

Resources:

QUOTES:

“This pandemic blindsided a lot of people. It just came out of the blue and now buildings are empty, employees aren’t coming to work and everything changed boom, overnight.”
“Expecting regulators to pick up on all the nuances quickly, when they were under competing pressure from different elements of society to get it right, must have been bewildering.”
“Some policymaking left me bewildered that we’d limit exposure to outdoor air and ask people to stay indoors when it was clear the best-ventilated spaces were the safest spaces.”
“Personally, I think the commercial real estate industry will never be the same again.  Everything has changed.”
“Many buildings are much better ventilated than people’s own homes. Early in this pandemic I learned that very few people realized how badly ventilated their own homes were.”
“When ventilation rates doubled, large increases were seen in people’s ability to process information, manage risk, make executive decisions, and execute higher-order mental processes.”
“Around the country, depending on climate, it’s estimated it would cost between $14 and $40 per person per year to double ventilation rates.”
“A building’s selling points should be less focused on whether or not it has a prestigious address, and more focused on its ability to improve the productivity of the people who work there.”
“The commercial real estate industry in general needs to listen very carefully to what it’s tenant employers that rent space and buildings want.”

 

Verifying Engineering Controls: The Critical Role of Emerging Technology

Featured in the AIHA Blog

Written by Erik Malmstrom, CEO of SafeTraces | December 22, 2020

A ceiling vent

2020 has been a wake-up call for the built environment. For years, indoor air quality has been a problem hidden in plain sight. Scientific research has detailed the scale and extent of this challenge, as well as the real human consequences evidenced in degraded cognitive function, illnesses, and absenteeism.

However, the current pandemic has elevated indoor air quality to an urgent matter of life and death. Infectious disease experts, including the CDC, have arrived at consensus regarding the significance of airborne and aerosol-based transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, viral infection has shown to be 18 times more likely indoors than outdoors, leading to a state of paralysis in much of the built environment.

The good news is that we know that air ventilation and filtration can make a major difference in mitigating airborne exposure risk indoors. According to the AIHA’s Guidance Document “Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 Using Engineering Controls” (PDF), “Engineering controls (including ventilation and filtration) 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.”

The bad news is that the pandemic has exposed a critical gap in the toolbox of industrial hygienists and mechanical engineers—a science-based, data-driven diagnostic solution for verifying engineering controls in real-world indoor environments. Today, many rely on carbon dioxide monitors, computational fluid dynamic modeling, mathematical calculations, and even smoke and bubble testing, none of which accurately approximate the risk of infectious aerosols.

Our company offers the first diagnostic solution for verifying ventilation and filtration-focused engineering controls, specifically for infection control, through a novel methodology that safely mimics aerosol mobility and exposure levels with DNA-tagged tracer particles. During the pandemic, we have supported clients spanning commercial real estate, industrial plant operations, and public infrastructure, providing us the following key insights:

  • Assumptions vs. ground truth: Similar to traditional building commissioning studies, our test results invariably reveal important discrepancies between our client’s assumed understanding of airflow patterns, airborne exposure levels, and HVAC system performance in their facilities relative to our assessment findings. Frequently, we detect unanticipated airflow between building areas, mechanical faults in the HVAC system, among other surprising findings that would otherwise be unknown to the client and that increase occupational health and safety risk.
  • Multiplier effect of airborne interventions: Our test results indicate a valuable multiplier effect of ventilation and filtration, evidenced by lower detection levels of our tracer particles in both air and surface swab samples. In other words, effective ventilation and filtration not only can reduce airborne exposures by removing infectious aerosols in the air; it also can reduce fomite exposures by preventing infectious aerosols from depositing on surfaces and infecting building occupants.
  • Importance of in-room interventions: Our test results clearly and consistently indicate greater efficacy in reducing airborne exposures with in-room interventions like portable HEPA filters relative to HVAC system interventions like MERV-level upgrades. Our tracer particles often don’t make it to in-system filters, whereas portable HEPA filters remove our tracer particles closer to the point of risk where infected occupants are likely to infect others. Thus, several clients have reevaluated the soundness of proceeding with MERV-level upgrades when considering their occupational health and safety benefit relative to their financial cost.

In conclusion, it is paramount for all occupants and professionals to understand if the HVAC system and engineering controls are actually helping or not in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Emerging technologies have tremendous potential to provide a more accurate understanding of real-world occupational health and safety risk and mitigate this risk based on science and data.

 

– Erik Malmstrom

Erik Malmstrom is CEO of SafeTraces, a Bay Area technology company and provider of DNA-enabled diagnostic solutions for indoor air quality. Further information can be found at www.safetraces.com.

This content originally appeared on the AIHA Blog. 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.

The SafeTraces Podcast – Episode #4

Episode #4
Ron McMahan, Dir. Business Development at SGS Galson

CEO Erik Malmstrom speaks with Ron McMahan, Director of Business Development and Innovative Solutions at SGS Galson, the largest occupational health lab in the world, with whom SafeTraces is collaborating to deliver the SafeTraces veriDART solution. For over 30 years, Ron has been at the forefront of applying burgeoning technology to real-time applications and currently leads a team in developing innovative ways to make sampling simpler. They discuss his experience in the indoor air arena, the changes he has seen in the EHS space as it pertains to new technologies, and some of the solutions SGS is providing to help protect spaces from COVID-19.

The SafeTraces Podcast – Episode #3

Episode #3
Lisa Kay, Chief Operating Officer at NV5

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

Managing Indoor Air Quality Amid COVID-19

Featured in Restoration & Remediation

Written by Mark Drozdov | October 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Image via Restoration & Remediation Magazine Online.

The fundamental question is what can and should we do to mitigate airborne transmission and create “safe” indoor environments amid COVID-19? One critically important and often overlooked area is engineering and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) controls. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) states, “Engineering controls that can keep infectious aerosols at very low levels indoors offer the greatest promise to protect non-healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations as we reopen our businesses and workplace.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

The SafeTraces Podcast – Episode #2

Episode #2
Glenn Fishler, MS

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

The SafeTraces Podcast – Episode #1

Episode #1
John Martin, ScD, CIH, CHMM

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

The Role of Aerosols in COVID-19 Transmission

Aerosols in COVID-19 Transmission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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