White House experts say new funding launched to address Covid-19 risks would look at how ventilation, purification and filtration systems can be better adopted across the country
The US Government will provide hundreds of billions of dollars in funding to improve ventilation and air filtration systems as part of a national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Clean Air in Buildings Challenge has been launched by President Joe Biden this month with the aim to ensure that the role of effective ventilation is understood by building operators and that any required improvements can be made to public buildings to limit airborne infection rates.
The global significance of good indoor air quality (IAQ) has been intensified by the ongoing pandemic and the emergence of recent studies concluding that transmission of different variants of Covid-19 is possible through aerosols in the air.
The current White House administration said that its new clean air challenge was backed by guidance – developed in partnership with agencies such as the country’s Department of Energy, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – that sets out four priorities for improving IAQ in buildings.
These priorities include calls for the development of building action plans that look at the existing levels of IAQ in a property and determine whether existing HVAC systems need to be upgraded or improved. This work should be backed with clear IAQ standards backed by a consistent inspection and maintenance regime.
A role for the potential use of air filtration systems or air cleaning solutions linked to a central HVAC system is also noted by the guidance in cases where a single approach such as opening windows is not viable or safe for occupants. The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge has also committed to improve public awareness of air quality issues in a building through closer engagement with occupants themselves.
Another priority identified by the guidance is an aim to optimise the ingress of “fresh air into a building”. This would focus on the concept of ‘clean outdoor air’.
Some ventilation specialists have previously told H&V News that air supplied from outside of a building should be referred to as ‘external air’ as opposed to ‘fresh air’ to account for high levels of air pollution in parts of the UK such as London. These concerns are linked to the potential for polluted air and other contaminants to impact occupant health if not filtered out or treated before finding their way into a building.
A mix of technologies
Dr Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a recent blog post on the US’ IAQ policy that ventilation systems alone may not be sufficient to ensure the required levels of air quality in certain buildings or environments.
Dr Nelson said that solutions such as filtration were sometimes needed to supplement HVAC systems or purifiers – particularly in cases where extreme temperatures or outdoor pollution or contaminants may prevent opening a window to ensure a constant flow of breathable air.
Likewise, air disinfection systems such as Germicidal UV (GUV) light technologies was the subject of a number of studies showing their effectiveness to tackle airborne viruses in certain cases. However, Dr Nelson added that more research was needed to develop UV solutions that were affordable, standardised and required less energy for use.
She added that IAQ policies were an important part of wider health strategies to limit risk posed by Covid-19 and other infections along with national vaccination programmes and other measures.
National health priority
Dr Nelson said that the quality of air in buildings now needed to be considered alongside other national health and safety requirements priorities.
She said, “For decades, Americans have demanded that clean water flow from our taps and pollution limits be placed on our smokestacks and tailpipes. It is time for healthy and clean indoor air to also become an expectation for us all. Clean and healthy indoor air is a fundamental commitment we must make to our children, to workers, to those who are medically vulnerable, and to every person in the country.”
The UK’s own chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance has been among experts over the last year to highlight the need for ‘good ventilation’ to manage infection risks and better ensure the health and wellbeing of occupants.
However, HVAC specialists and trade bodies have argued that the UK needs to do more to ensure that schools, homes and offices have sufficient support to introduce ventilation standards and support that can ensure a constant supply of external air that is also safe for them to breathe.
IAQ at the H&V News Better Buildings Summit
IAQ and what should be considered the new benchmarks for good ventilation will be among the main discussion points at H&V News’ online Better Buildings Summit that is taking place on March 29.
An expert panel that includes Orlaith Gillen, Air to Air account manager for Panasonic Ireland, Laura Mansel-Thomas, senior partner at Ingleton Wood, Adam Taylor or ARM Environments, and Colin Timmins, building technologies director for industry body BEAMA will be sharing their views on this.
You can sign up for free here to take part in the discussion, which starts at 2:10PM (GMT).
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