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‘Clean up indoor air, or else expect COVID to surge’

TROY, New York, 21 August 2021: An air quality engineer warned that the COVID-19 pandemic won’t end until Americans clean up the indoor air.

Jeremy McDonald

“With variants on the rise, all the talk this summer has been about vaccines,” said Jeremy McDonald, Vice President at New York-based firm, Guth DeConzo Consulting. “Now we’re hearing about masks again, which feels like a step back for most of us. But when it comes to preventing the spread of airborne viruses, like COVID-19, we also have to improve the quality of the air in our indoor spaces. As the seasons change, it seems like we’re going back to old, tired strategies that haven’t gotten us out of this mess. It’s time to listen to the engineers: It’s all about the air.”

Mc Donald on July 26 published an essay, titled ‘Moving Beyond COVID-19: It’s Time to Look at the Air We Breathe’, in which he argued that President Joe Biden’s ‘American Jobs Plan’ must include improvements to the indoor air quality (IAQ) infrastructure, if Americans are to finally beat the COVID-19 pandemic and improve defenses against future pandemics and common day-to-day air quality maladies. Toward the end of July, COVID-19 cases began to surge in parts of the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidance to once again recommend that Americans wear masks indoors, even if vaccinated.

McDonald encouraged improvements to ventilation and the use of high-performance air filters and other air purification technologies, where appropriate. Buildings that have deferred maintenance and investment in modern HVAC may require more complicated and expensive solutions, he said.

“Although some buildings may require an expensive investment, we need to weigh this against the cost of our health and well-being,” McDonald wrote in his essay. “Certainly, when considering our health, fixing ‘sick’ buildings is a much better choice than fixing ‘sick’ people.”

Yet, McDonald said, there are plenty of low-cost or no-cost solutions that can drastically improve IAQ, such as cracking a window, which reduces the intensity and quantity of virus particles and their ability to spread to more people, using air purification technologies, and simply ensuring that buildings meet the spirit of building code requirements for minimal fresh air for buildings.

Saying that there is a historical precedent for this common sense strategy, McDonald noted in his essay: “In response to the Pandemic of 1918, when more than 20,000 New Yorkers died, ventilation was seen as one of the key attributes to protect residents from the devastation of the pandemic. Back then, New York City officials dictated that building heating systems were to be designed and sized to operate with all the windows open, since it was recognized that ventilation was key to purge the virus from indoor spaces. If it worked 100 years ago, it will work today.”

One of the main challenges in getting people to pay more attention to poor indoor air quality is that the problem is invisible, an issue McDonald commented on in an original cartoon he commissioned to get his point across. In the first panel of the cartoon, two fish swim in a bowl. One fish says, “I think the poor quality of the water is making us sick.” The other fish asks, “What’s water?” In the second panel, two office workers and an HVAC engineer stand near the same fishbowl. “Glad to be done with masks, sanitizers and social distancing forever!” says one office worker. “If we don’t improve our air quality in our buildings, we will keep getting sick in the future,” the engineer chimes in. “The air looks good to me,” says the other office worker. Beside her, one of the fish in the bowl is floating upside down with Xs for eyes, indicating it has died. The caption below the cartoon reads, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a fish,” which is a modern proverb attributed to various sources. That saying, McDonald asserted, sums up our own troubled relationship to air quality – because air is so fundamental to our existence, most of us don’t even think about it. But HVAC engineers think about air every day, all day, and it’s time to listen to them in the fight against airborne illness, he added.

“My frustration, which motivates me to write and speak out on the issue of air quality, is that our leaders are not getting it, and they aren’t listening to engineers,” McDonald said. “But the public health officials aren’t really talking about indoor air quality either, so a lot of politicians probably don’t want to go against the narrative.”

McDonald said that some of the anti-vaccine sentiments may stem from incomplete messaging that does not address indoor air quality. “Some of the resistance to masks and vaccines might be because people know in the back of their mind there’s something missing from the common messaging that is ringing hollow 18 months into this pandemic,” McDonald said. “We are constantly hearing, ‘Wash your hands, wear a mask and socially distance, where possible. We need to add simple, yet time-tested, ventilation strategies to our messaging, which we all know implicitly makes sense to folks from all political persuasions.” Perhaps with improved messaging from our leaders and initiatives to fix our broken HVAC systems, we can truly address this pandemic without arguing about the viability of masking and vaccines, he added.

McDonald said he is clear that vaccines are a key tool in beating this pandemic. But, without addressing the fundamental issue of indoor air quality, he said, we may be putting a “BAND-AID” on the current problem, missing out on the opportunity to improve public health for the long term.

Camfil launches CamCarb VG engineered molecular filtration solution

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, 12 May 2021: Camfil launched the CamCarb VG engineered molecular filtration solution, which the company described as a robust solution suited for make-up air and recirculation air systems. The primary use of the technology, Camfil said, is the control of acidic gases that are responsible for the corrosion of electronics and electrical equipment in heavy process industries, such as pulp and paper mills; petrochemical refineries; mining and metal refining operations; and wastewater treatment plants. They are also suitable for lighter applications, such as the removal of noxious and odorous fumes generated outside airports, hospital helipads, cultural heritage buildings, and commercial offices located in city centres, Camfil added. The modules can be filled with different types of Camfil molecular filtration media to suit the specific customer application, the company said. There are two standard configurations of CamCarb VG: VG300 and VG440, it said, adding that the VG300 format is best suited for moderate duty (normally make-up air) applications, and the VG440 is best suited for light-duty (recirculation air) applications.

According to Camfil, CamCarb VG filters can be installed in specially designed housings, with options for front-loading, side-loading, or positive-seal side access (PSSA). They can also be used as replacements in housings and track systems produced by other manufacturers, the company said.

The modules are fully welded and constructed without adhesive to eliminate the possibility of off-gassing, Camfil said. They include a unique moulded mesh to allow the use of a full range of loose-fill media without shedding, it said. Many applications will require multiple molecular media to address a range of contaminants. The different media should be deployed in a series of layered modules. This layered approach will provide the highest removal efficiency, the longest life, and the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO), as each media can be changed when it reaches the end of its useful life, it said, adding that a blended-media, on the other hand, requires all the media to be replaced when just a single component has failed.

ASHRAE releases core recommendations for reducing airborne infectious aerosol exposure

ATLANTA, Georgia, 14 January 2021: The ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force has released new guidance to address control of airborne infectious aerosol exposure and recommendations for communities of faith buildings, ASHRAE said through a Press release.

An infectious aerosol is a suspension in air of fine particles or droplets containing pathogens, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which can cause infections when inhaled, ASHRAE said. They can be produced by breathing, talking, sneezing and other as well as by flushing toilets and by certain medical and dental procedures, it added.

ASHRAE’s Core Recommendations for Reducing Airborne Infectious Aerosol Exposure concisely summarize the main points found in the detailed guidance documents produced by the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force, it said. They are based on the concept that ventilation, filtration and air cleaners can be combined flexibly to achieve exposure reduction goals, subject to constraints that may include comfort, energy use and costs, it added.

“This guidance outlines a clear approach for lessening the risk of infectious aerosol exposure for building occupants that can be applied in a wide range of applications, from homes to offices, to mobile environments, such as vehicles and ships,” said William Bahnfleth, Chair, ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force. “ASHRAE’s Core Recommendations are based on an equivalent clean air supply approach that allows the effects of filters, air cleaners, and other removal mechanisms to be added together to achieve an exposure reduction target.”

 According to ASHRAE, specific recommendations include the following:

  • Public health guidance
    • Follow all regulatory and statutory requirements and recommendations.
  • Ventilation, filtration, air cleaning 
    • Outdoor airflow rates guidance for ventilation, as specified by applicable codes and standards.
    • Recommendations on filters and air cleaners that achieve MERV 13 or better levels of performance.
    • The use of air cleaners.
    • Control options that provide desired exposure reduction while minimizing associated energy penalties.
    • Air distribution.
    • Promote the mixing of space air.
  • HVAC system operation
    • Maintain temperature and humidity design set points.
    • Maintain equivalent clean air supply required for design occupancy.
    • Operate systems for a time required to achieve three air changes of equivalent clean air supply.
    • Limit re-entry of contaminated air.
  • System commissioning
    • Verify that HVAC systems are functioning as designed.

 According to ASHRAE, the task force’s Communities of Faith Buildings guidance offers recommendations on conducting worship services under epidemic conditions. 

Rick Karg, ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force member, said: “The intent of the Communities of Faith guidance is to offer those who operate and care for buildings used for worship a plan for implementing short- and long-term HVAC strategies to reduce the possibilities of transmission of the SARS-CoV2-2 virus. The document also helps communities move toward a new ‘normal’ operation after this public health emergency nears an end.”

According to ASHRAE, recommendations for Communities of Faith include the following:

  • Identify HVAC system characteristics. Compile and review operation and maintenance manuals and schedules.
  • Verify HVAC systems are well maintained and operating as intended. For maintenance, follow the requirements of ASHRAE Standard 180 – 2018, Standard Practice for the Inspection and Maintenance of Commercial HVAC Systems.
    • Consider PPE when maintaining HVAC systems, including filters, coils and drain pans.
  • Operate HVAC systems, if present, with system fan set to run continuously when building is occupied for services or cleaning.
  • Operate the system for a time required to achieve three equivalent air changes of outdoor air (effect of outdoor air, filtration and air cleaners) before the first daily occupancy and between occupied periods, if appropriate. Three equivalent air changes can be calculated using ASHRAE’s Building Readiness Guide.

 To view the complete ASHRAE Core Recommendations For Reducing Airborne Infectious Aerosol Exposure and Communities of Faith Building guidance, ASHRAE suggested visiting ashrae.org/COVID-19.

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