Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Michael Driedger, Founder and CEO of Airsset Technologies.
We’ve had water quality standards since the 1970s and outdoor air standards since the 1990s, so why don’t we have indoor air quality standards in Vancouver or anywhere in Canada?
Especially in the shadow of the COVID 19 pandemic and with Health Canada estimating that we spend 90% of our time indoors, air quality in our public buildings and workplaces must become a priority. Indoor air quality has a measurable effect on a person’s overall health and well-being, including instantaneous effects such as fatigue, headaches and lack of concentration and longer term effects. term such as allergies and diseases.
For years we have had sensors that indicate major safety issues such as the presence of carbon monoxide in the air, or if there is fire and smoke in a building. We now have access to small, flexible commercial-grade indoor air quality sensors, which allow us to detect and measure the following vital details.
How much dust is there in the air? Dust and other particulate matter are produced by human activities such as cooking, fuel burning and candles, as well as hobbies, such as woodworking. It also comes from biological sources like mold, mildew spores or pollen.
How many chemicals are there in the air? New carpets, paint, cabinets, printers, cleaning products and perfumes are sources of chemicals that can be harmful.
Is the space well ventilated? (We measure this with CO2 data). Everyone exhales CO2, so the primary source of CO2 in indoor spaces is people. You become drowsy and may have headaches at low CO2 levels. Harvard studies suggest that a 15% reduction in cognitive function results from moderately low levels of CO2, making those meetings and project deadlines harder to meet when the air quality is poor.
What is your risk of colds, flu and COVID indoors? The risk of contracting an airborne virus is a combination of temperature, humidity, CO2 and particulate levels. These factors contribute to a virus’s ability to survive in the air or the amount likely to be in the air.
Knowing what’s in the air, why it matters, and we can easily measure it, why is there no indoor air quality policy in Vancouver? We were striving to be one of the “greenest cities in the world”, even though our zero-emission building commitments now lag behind world leaders.
The building industry has focused on saving energy and meeting municipal climate codes. The problem with reducing the amount of outdoor air entering buildings, a strategy we’ve used since the 1980s to save energy, is that you then increase the chance that anything entering a space, such as CO2 buildup, stays there for a while. Long duration. Whether it’s chemicals or a virus in the air, it’s something we clearly shouldn’t sacrifice to save energy.
There are ways to save energy and improve indoor air quality. Most building code developers and builders have not been focused or trained on the balance between energy savings and the health risks associated with poor indoor air quality. They are also unaware of the associated drop in productivity.
For more than 100 years, the medical world believed that viruses were not spread through the air. For example, it took twelve months for the BC Center for Disease Control to accept that COVID-19 was airborne. China was well aware due to the 2002 SARS pandemic and currently has the highest indoor air quality standards in the world.
Because indoor air quality exists in such a variety of spaces, with different requirements and factors, it is more difficult to standardize and involve everyone in creating change. With outdoor air, a local authority simply needs to establish standardized rules that affect all industries equally. With buildings, you cannot apply the same air quality requirements to a hospital, where the air quality must be higher due to those with weakened immune systems, compared to an industrial facility where health and comfort are essential, but the standards are not so extreme.
The private sector in Vancouver is starting to take notice. Airsset, which has clients such as Ronald McDonald House, is an organization that plays a leading role in monitoring indoor air quality in public spaces at its Vancouver facility. Several Vancouver companies are also working with us to collect data on their indoor air.
Solutions to poor indoor air quality are often simple and inexpensive, such as increasing airflow, bringing more humidifiers into the space, and reducing dust and chemical levels.
Vancouver has yet to adopt a policy that calls for better indoor air quality, even though that’s a win for everyone’s health, comfort and productivity. Ideally, all buildings would consider indoor air quality as an essential part of their health and safety requirements.