University of Leeds | News> Engineering> ‘Improving air quality in buildings to reduce respiratory infections’

LLeading experts in airborne pathogen transmission call for stricter regulations to control air quality in buildings – to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases .

Write in the journal Science, the 40 scientists said: A paradigm shift is needed at the scale that occurred when Chadwick Health Report in 1842, the British government encouraged cities to organize centralized drinking water supplies and sewage systems.

In the 21st century, we need to lay the foundation to ensure that the air in our buildings is clean, with dramatically reduced pathogens contributing to building occupants. health ?? just as we would expect for the water that comes out of our taps. ??

??For decades architects and building engineers have focused on performance issues, while infection control has been neglected.??

Professor Lidia Morawska, Queensland University of Technology

Scientists who contributed to the analysis include Cath Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings, based in the School of Civil Engineering in Leeds, and member of SAGE, the body which advises the British government in the event of a scientific emergency.

Professor Noakes said: “Over the years, we have overlooked the role that the air circulating inside a building plays in the way germs and viruses can spread between people. The pandemic has exposed this gap in our understanding and the way we seek to make buildings safer to use.

We need to introduce new mechanisms that keep pathogen levels in the airflow in buildings and other enclosed spaces to a minimum. This approach can be achieved with supported technology with a requirement to meet new standards. ??

Professor Cath Noakes stands under the ducts of a ventilation system inside a building. Photo: Jude Palmer / Royal Academy of Engineering

• Measures to improve ventilation to reduce exposure to airborne pathogens will provide other benefits, including reduced exposure to other air pollutants and improved performance and well-being.

Historically, public health regulations have focused on sanitation, drinking water and food safety, while the risk of airborne pathogens whether it is influenza or COVID-19 is ?? … addressed quite weakly, if at all, in terms of regulations, standards, and the design and operation of buildings, regarding the air we breathe, the scientists said.

Recognize the risk of spreading pathogens by aerosol

Research conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role aerosols play in the spread of the disease. When a person with a respiratory infection speaks, coughs or sneezes, tiny infectious particles are emitted from the nose and mouth. Inside, these tiny particles are carried through the air and infect other people.

The document says: ?? … community outbreaks of COVID-19 infection in particular most often occur at greater distances through inhalation of charged virus particles suspended in the air in indoor spaces shared with infected individuals.

Such airborne transmission is potentially the dominant mode of transmission for many respiratory infections. We also have strong evidence on disease transmission, for example in restaurants, boats and schools, which suggests that the way we design, operate and maintain buildings influence transmission. ??

This risk of cross-contamination of people inside a building can be reduced by ventilation combined with disinfection and air filtration systems. However, scientists note: ?? … almost no engineering measures to limit the transmission of community respiratory infections had been used in public buildings ?? excluding health establishments ?? or transport infrastructure, anywhere in the world. ??

Stricter controls

There are ventilation guidelines and standards that architects and builders must follow, but the focus is on reducing odors and carbon dioxide levels and maintaining thermal comfort. None provide recommendations on how to control the spread of pathogens.

Scientists claim World Health Organization Indoor Air Quality Guidelines, which cover pollutants such as carbon monoxide and other chemicals, to expand to include airborne pathogens. Experts say individual governments must introduce and enforce national regulations.

None of this means that every indoor space has to become a biosecurity facility, ?? scientists write in the article. This means that a building must be designed and operated according to its purpose and the activities carried out in it, so that the risk of airborne infection is kept below an acceptable level.

Tables in an empty restaurant with ventilation ducts on the ceiling.

Ventilation systems in buildings should be designed for the use of the building and may differ for restaurants as opposed to gymnasiums or cinemas. Image: Adobe Stock

This would mean different standards for a gym where people can breathe heavily as opposed to people who relax in a movie theater.

Lead author of the article, Lidia Morawska, Professor Emeritus at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, said: ?? For decades, architects and building engineers have focused on thermal comfort, odor control, perceived air quality, initial investment cost, energy consumption, and other performance issues, while the infection control has been neglected. ??

Fresh

Scientists dispute the argument that the costs of controlling the air quality in buildings are prohibitive. They say the monthly cost of COVID-19 is conservatively estimated at $ 1 trillion. Installing ventilation and air quality systems designed to remove airborne pathogens would add about 1% to a typical building’s construction bill.

Improving air quality in buildings would bring benefits beyond reducing disease levels from respiratory infections. It is likely to reduce allergens and the number of people who suffer from “sick building syndrome”.

Professor Noakes is a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, where she was engaged to their COVID-19 Working Group support engineering approaches to improve ventilation in buildings.

Further information

Top image: Adobe Stock

The paper, “A paradigm shift to fight indoor respiratory infections“, was published in the newspaper Science.

For more details, please contact David Lewis at the University of Leeds Press Office via [email protected]


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