Airborne pathogen

Fast-Tracking a Landmark Commitment to Standardize Airborne Pathogen Mitigation

ASHRAE sets the stage for healthier indoor spaces for everyone by committing to support the development of a national indoor air quality (IAQ) pathogen mitigation standard within six months.

Rising to the Challenge of Improving IAQ

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Air in Building Challenge, there’s been a widespread recognition that more needs to be done to treat our indoor air to reduce the risk of infection. Despite this, no new standard or systemic program has been developed to improve our IAQ. For example, OSHA’s standards for workplace ventilation and air contaminants have remained unchanged for nearly three decades. The need for a standardized, consensus-based code is long-overdue.

That is why it was so notable on December 7th, 2022, that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) set an aggressive, six-month timeline for a new national IAQ pathogen mitigation standard. Since 1894, ASHRAE has been committed to advancing the science and practice of heating ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration and is the foremost authority on developing technical standards for indoor air quality. ASHRAE’s urgency comes in the wake of new COVID-19 outbreaks and the alarming rise in flu and respiratory illness (RSV) that threatens a winter tripledemic.

Building upon the National COVID -19 Preparedness Plan and the Biden Administration’s pledge to meet EPA’s Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, ASHRAE’s  accelerated commitment, is designed to provide organizations of all sizes with science-based, broad-reaching guidance and best practices for pathogen mitigation.

Dr. Carolina Koutras, Director of Clinical Studies at R-Zero explains, “Just like our health is affected by the water we drink, we’ve known for a long time that our health is affected by the air we breathe. The development of a pathogen mitigation standard marks the beginning of a new era in the healthy and sustainable indoor air quality movement.” She continues, “The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of disinfection and risk modeling sensor technologies, pushing building occupants and managers faster into the future. Scientifically-valid, consensus-based technical guidance and standards are more needed than ever.” 

The standard is scheduled to be delivered in the next six months and will encompass:

  • Both design and operation
  • Alternative paths (prescriptive or performance), in which equivalent clean air would be the goal
  • Testing, verification, documentation (commissioning) and periodic re-commissioning

An Opportunity to Embrace Complementary Approaches

There are multiple tools available for improving IAQ. Proper room ventilation along with installing air purifiers and updating heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are critical base layers of defense against airborne pathogens. Air purifiers work by pulling air from the surrounding area, passing it through a filter or series of filters, and releasing it back into the room. Most regular HVAC systems work by bringing in fresh outdoor air and mixing it with recirculated air to help minimize the heating/cooling load of a building. There are many situations where traditional ventilation and filtration can be enhanced with germicidal UV-C (GUV), as an additional protective layer, to mitigate indoor pathogen loads, including in situations or settings where: 

  • Current HVAC systems cannot deliver increased ventilation without system upgrades that may be too expensive, time-intensive, or disruptive to occupants
  • The increased energy consumption due to improved ventilation and filtration are prohibitively expensive
  • The greenhouse gas emissions associated with increased ventilation and filtration are counter to the organization’s sustainability and decarbonization goals
  • Tenants are prohibited by owners to make changes or upgrades to the HVAC system
  • The noise is too disruptive to occupants
  • Maintenance needs (e.g., replacing HEPA/MERV filters, inspecting HVAC system) are too demanding for building staff or too expensive for building owners

GUV is a long established means of air, surface and water disinfection that can effectively be used to improve IAQ outcomes and complement existing HVAC systems. The energy and short wavelength of UV-C light disinfects by causing damage to the genomes of aerosolized bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. This makes it ideal for improving indoor air quality by reducing the presence of potentially harmful microorganisms as people breathe and interact in a space – without the need for recirculated air or use of chemical substances.

Some of the most common applications of UV-C for air disinfection use upper-room fixtures that are engineered to operate safely and disinfect air in “real-time” in occupied spaces. These fixtures are commissioned to emit UV-C light exclusively in the upper part of the room, or alternatively they emit filtered 222 nm light, which is considered safe for human eyes and skin. The effectiveness of these GUV devices can be measured in equivalent air changes per hour (eACH) to provide a familiar comparison with the traditional ventilation approach and can easily achieve 6+ eACH in most spaces.

UV-C technology is so effective in preventing infection transmission, that guidelines on its use against one of the world’s deadliest airborne pathogens have been published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not surprisingly, it has also been recently recommended for safer indoor air in Canada alongside ventilation and filtration.  

More about Dr. Carolina Koutras, Director of Clinical Studies, R-Zero

carolina koutras

Dr. Carolina Koutras is building the world she wants to live in. As R-Zero’s Director of Clinical Studies, Dr. Koutras is a change-maker with a proven track-record of researching and validating the large-scale safety and efficacy of health products and technologies. Prior to joining R-Zero, she led global clinical science and R&D activities in the high growth private sector, and the implementation of major strategic investments in health research and capacity building in the public sector.

Dr. Koutras serves on Health Canada’s Science Advisory Committee on Pest Control Products as a Specialized Expert, Ultraviolet Devices; co-chairs the Technology and Research of Air and Surface Treatment (TRAST) Task Force at the International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA), and is a member of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology (APIC) and ASHRAE. She holds a PhD and a MSc from Laval University, a BSc from Paris Descartes University, and is fluent in English, French, and Brazilian Portuguese.

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