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Letter Grades for Air Quality? Some Companies Get Their Indoor Air Tested for Viruses

What to Know

  • If a building’s air is basically virus free, the building can earn a new seal of approval  from UL, the universal symbol of safety on thousands of household and industrial products.
  • No government agency has set a standard for air change, but the Harvard School of Public Health says air in a room should be changed completely at least four times an hour to prevent the spread of viruses like COVID or the flu.
  • UL is putting its stamp of approval on air quality in buildings that pass a rigorous test, proving the ventilation and filtration systems are removing airborne viruses.

To lure employees back to work during the ongoing pandemic,  some companies are now getting their indoor air tested. If the air is basically virus free, the building can earn a new seal of approval  from UL, the universal symbol of safety on thousands of household and industrial products.

“I feel protected coming here every day,” says Tracy Childress, who manages a West LA office building on Sepulveda Blvd that recently passed tests and earned UL’s seal of approval for indoor air.

“That seal shows that we are keeping the building safe and that we have a ventilation system that would keep employees safe, Childress told NBCLA.

To get that seal of air quality safety, UL is partnering with a biotech company called Safe Traces which has tested air quality in airports, universities, and office buildings across the country.

To test the air, a Safe Traces technician sprays a harmless DNA aerosol into the air of an office; the spray simulates the droplets of a cough or sneeze. 

“Our aerosol tracer can simulate any type of airborne pathogen, whether it’s COVID or the flu or the common cold,” Safe Traces CEO Erik Malmstrom told the I-Team.

Then for the next hour, a high tech machine collects air samples, to gauge something called “air change,” or how many times the air in that room is completely changed each hour through the ventilation and air conditioning systems. 

No government agency has set a standard for air change, but the Harvard School of Public Health says air in a room should be changed completely at least four times an hour to prevent the spread of viruses like COVID or the flu.

“It is now widely recognized that clean indoor air is the key to getting workers safely back to workplaces, students safely back to schools,” said epidemiologist Dr. David Michaels, at a White House Summit on Indoor Air Quality held earlier this month.

The Safe Traces tests on that west LA office building on Sepulveda showed the air was being changed at least five times per hour, meaning at least 99% of aerosol particles simulating viruses were being filtered out. That earned the building the UL seal of approval for its air quality.

“UL is an industry standard,” says Ted Bischak of Ocean West Capital, which co-owns the building with investment banker Goldman Sachs. “That seal will become the gold standard in terms of whether or not your building is safe in terms of recent outbreaks,” Bischak told the I-Team.

UL and Safe Traces hope their seal of approval for indoor air will eventually be on the front door of thousands of buildings across the US, telling workers the air is safe to breathe.

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