2021 brought a paradigm shift in terms of indoor air quality. In a similar fashion to the nineteenth century where the need for water quality was realised and living quality increased dramatically, the post-pandemic world has brutally exposed the bad air that we tend to live with.
Companies in the corporate, education and healthcare settings are making moves to improve air quality in shared workspaces. Because the knock-on effects of air quality are not just respiratory health. Clean air leads to increased focus, better mood, better sleeping patterns, better skin and decreased asthma and allergies.
Mostly, companies hold back from addressing serious problems in air quality primarily because of the difficulty and lack of resources in assessing air quality.
Here are some simple steps to assess your air quality:
1. CO2 Monitoring
CO2 Levels are a very good indicator of transmissibility when talking Covid-19, because the amount of carbon dioxide in the room shows the lingering of human breathing. Australian academics have proven that Covid-19 is an aerosol-transmissible disease.
Further to this, carbon dioxide levels affect the ability to focus, essentially leaving you with fatigue, headaches and muscle problems.
This presents two issues:
With good ventilation, carbon dioxide levels are able to be controlled, dispersing the carbon dioxide outside or through the building’s HVAC system. Ventilation brings in fresh air with a healthy balance of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
With bad ventilation comes bad air quality. However often the outside air can be even worse than the indoor air, especially in badly polluted cities. In this case a mix of good ventilation and air filtration is essential.
What to do: Find a good CO2 monitor to assess the PPM levels (parts per million) of carbon dioxide. For reference, 800 – 1,000ppm and above is an unhealthy level.
How to fix CO2 Levels: Improve the amount of fresh air you bring into the building. This can be as simple as opening windows, or amount to adding fresh air ducts to your HVAC system. Note: HEPA filtration does not remove CO2. CO2 is used as an indicator of how easily viruses can be transmitted by the amount of human expulsion exists in the room.
2. PM2.5 Monitoring
PM2.5 (particle matter at 2.5 microns) is a measure of the amount of particulate matter in the air. Where carbon dioxide is a gas, particulate matter is actual solids carried in the air, such as smoke (fine carbon and ash), smog, pollen, dust, spores, bacteria and virus. High PM levels can lead to more severe effects such as asthma, irritation and generally bad lungs.
A good CO2 monitor will often come with several sensors including light, PM2.5, temperature and humidity. Particulate matter monitoring is not essential but will give a good indication of how good your base build/HVAC system is.
How to fix PM levels: A HEPA filter is the best way to fix your PM levels. The least expensive way to do this is to purchase a portable HEPA filter such as the Aeris range. HEPA filtration essentially traps very fine particles in a sophisticated filter media which consists of extremely fine fibres. A good air purifier such as the Aeris product will also neutralise organic materials such as mould, spores, bacteria and virus – in this case with anti-microbial filter treatment.
3. Engage a consultant
If you own or occupy a large workplace with multiple offices, then engaging a consultant might be your best option. Tests such as carbon dioxide decay rate, which is slightly more complex but much more relevant, will show just how effective the HVAC system is at regulating your air quality.
This involves filling a room with CO2 and measuring how quickly the levels decay. A fast decay rate means your HVAC system is effective and provides a good air exchange rate. A poor or slow decay rate means you may have to adjust or alter your HVAC to provide good ventilation or effective air speed.
However, HVAC is also very effective at spreading bad air. For example, if you have an infected group of people or person in a room, the HVAC system will automatically push the bad air through the rooms to the nearest return air duct – a simple mechanical principle. Without proper filtration the HVAC system can be harmful in a pandemic setting.
This is where HEPA filtration should be implemented to ensure clean air, rather than air movement.
HEPA filtration: the best tool to improve air quality
A simple portable HEPA filter can dramatically improve air quality, reducing the amount of matter in the air. Combined with pre-filters and carbon filters like the Aeris range, HEPA filters can remove smells, some gases and deliver 99.95% pure air.
What to avoid
- Ionisers – these charge particles negatively in the air to make them adhere to surfaces, then be cleaned. The downside: harmful substances are attracted and stick to the walls, the carpet, the furniture, and any other surface – including your lungs.
- UV-C (ultraviolet) treatment – UV-C is very effective at neutralising bacteria, viruses and other organisms. However, if you are exposed to UV-C it kills skin cells as well, in a very short time acting like severe sunburn. Furthermore, UV-C causes a chemical reaction with the air, producing ozone as a by-product. Ozone is harmful to the lungs and can cause severe asthma attacks.
- Non-certified HEPA filters – An H13 HEPA filter is tested and certified for effectiveness. A non-certified filter will still be effective but won’t deliver the promised results.
Reach out to Westlab/Santé Group for a full assessment and range of air quality products.