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Identify and Mitigate Risks Related to
Building Ventilation During COVID-19

Research continues to support the hypothesis that COVID-19 transmission can occur from both respiratory droplets (close-contact) and airborne (long-range) transmission. ASHRAE, a professional organization that is repeatedly referenced by the CDC and the global leader and foremost source of building ventilation system technical and educational information, convened an Epidemic Task Force which prepared a Building Readiness Guide. The guide states, “Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures” and “Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air.

With evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can transmit from respiratory droplets and via airborne particles in the indoor environment and the CDC recommendation to consider improving engineering controls using building ventilation, businesses should consider evaluating the performance of current building ventilation systems, implement supplemental ventilation engineering controls to further reduce the risk of indoor COVID-19 transmission, and validate the efficacy of new control measures. DNA tracer aerosol is a well suited tool for evaluating buildings to identify areas of previously unknown concern and verify/quantify the added benefit of newly added control measures like standalone HEPA filtration devices or upgraded filters in air handlers.

RHP’s group of Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIHs) have decades of combined experience and knowledge to assist clients with evaluations of aerosol mobility through buildings using DNA-powered aerosol tracers and inspections of building mechanical systems. We provide easy to understand reports that visually depict the amount of aerosol spread (or localized containment) of tracer aerosols, and data-driven recommendations for ventilation system improvements (if necessary).

To reduce the risk of indoor SARS-CoV-2 transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic, building ventilation systems should be well maintained, outfitted with the best-performing air filters compatible with the system, and control-logic reprogrammed to increase the delivery rate of fresh outside air. In addition to recommending that individuals wear cloth face coverings to reduce risk, the CDC also states that “Face coverings are particularly important when physical distancing is not possible and individuals are indoors with poor ventilation.” Implementing engineering controls, increasing air filtration, and evaluating the performance of building ventilation system to reduce indoor air pollutants such as SARS-CoV-2 are important steps that should be performed within large facilities, such as schools, commercial buildings, and healthcare facilities, to reduce the risk of spreading infectious aerosols.

How RHP’s Planning and Assessment Helps Your Organization

By evaluating your current building ventilation system to either identify issues or confirm successful implementation of best-practice recommendations for reducing risk of COVID-19 transmission, RHP experts can assist building owners, operators, managers, engineers, maintenance personnel, technicians, and other staff with understanding, implementing, and validating risk reduction controls. RHP’s two-fold approach, which includes evaluating building ventilation systems and providing best-practice guidance, can help organizations improve indoor air quality and reduce risk COVID-19 transmission to provide a safe environment for building occupants. By following current best-practice ventilation guidance from Federal, State, local, scientific, educational, and professional organizations such as the CDC, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), AIHA (backtoworksafely.org), the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), combined with current organization and site specific operations, successful customized building ventilation assessments for risk reduction strategies can be implemented to protect workers and provide a safe and healthy workplace.

In addition, evaluating current indoor air quality and assuring a buildings ventilation system is providing clean indoor air, can help organizations reduce health concerns associated with poor indoor air quality and increase productivity in the workplace.

Our Building Ventilation Assessment Services

RHP provides a variety of building ventilation system assessment services including:

  • Review of HVAC system performance and maintenance which includes collaborating with staff and facility engineers to review the configuration of facility HVAC systems, evaluate current filtration efficiency based on Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) ratings, and supply and exhaust air system analysis.
  • Tracer gas testing to measure the actual air-change rate in order to quantify the rate of fresh-air (outside air) delivery to each occupied space generally following ASTM method E741.
  • Verification of engineering and HVAC controls using SafeTraces veriDART™, a first of its kind liquid aerosol-based solution for verifying engineering and HVAC controls. The technology uses proprietary DNA tagged tracer particles that safely mimic the mobility of infectious aerosols (e.g., SARS-CoV-2) in order to help identify hotspots, and quantitatively assess ventilation and filtration using an indicator with physicochemical proprieties closely aligned with that of infectious aerosols.
  • Laboratory ventilation assessments including hood ventilation studies (ANSI/AIHA Z9.5) to assess effectiveness of laboratory hood performance to confirm laboratory ventilation equipment is calibrated to effectively flow at regulatory, method, and contaminant specific airflow removal rates and clean room validations studies.
  • Fume extraction efficiency testing which includes evaluation of capture efficiency at an emissions source, measurement of operating airflow, evaluation of local exhaust ventilation (LEV) filtration, and personal air sampling for failure to capture emissions.

Building ventilation is a critical component of a building and should be periodically assessed to ensure optimal performance. Ventilation system assessments and engineered solutions provide valuable information and benefits to building owners and managers that include operating cost reduction, indoor air quality improvements, occupant comfort, and liability and risk reduction.

How We Test Your Building Ventilation

DNA-tagged aerosol tracers

  • RHP can assess biological hazards commonly found in indoor environments such as bacteria, and viruses. To assess the performance of engineering controls and building ventilation for COVID-19 risk reduction, RHP utilizes a liquid aerosol-based DNA tagged tracer solution, SafeTraces veriDART™, to safely mimic the mobility of infectious aerosols (e.g., SARS-CoV-2) in order to help identify hotspots, and quantitatively assess ventilation and filtration using an indicator with physicochemical proprieties closely aligned with that of infectious aerosols. RHP is an authorized service provider of SafeTraces DNA-technology solutions.
DNA-detection air samplers quantify the extent of aerosol migration or containment within an area.
Safe DNA-tracers in a liquid solution are aerosolized through a nebulizer to replicate the particle size distribution of a sneeze. These FDA Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) tracers move through the air and mimic the movement of infectious aerosols.
Release of veriDART spray with DNA-tagged particle technology.

 

Tracer gas testing to measure Air Changes per Hour (air-change rate)

  • RHP uses tracer gases, such as SF6 and CO2 to quantitatively measure the actual air-change rate in a space. Results may be compared against design criteria (e.g. cleanrooms, operating rooms, patient isolation rooms), or current guidance for COVID-19 risk reduction which equates an air-change rate of 4.5 air-changes per hour to a 90% risk reduction according to the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Guidelines for infection control in healthcare facilities have shown that an air-change rate of 6 ACH is associated with a 95% relative risk reduction and provides a level of protection equivalent to N95 respirator use. Measurement of actual air-change rates in a space, as opposed to calculating a theoretical value based upon HVAC design parameters, can help facilities understand the true risk profile for an occupied space and fine-tune system parameters to truly effectively reduce communicable disease transmission risks.

Benefits of Our Indoor Air Quality Testing and Ventilation Assessment Services

As many buildings have different building ventilation designs based on user function, RHP’s customized building ventilation assessment can provide building managers with the confidence that they are providing adequate indoor air quality for their occupants or, if necessary, guidance on improvement measures such as ventilation re-design or air filtration updates. RHP experts can also assist with indoor air quality considerations during building ventilation design, construction, and equipment installation which can include guidance on location of outdoor air intakes, building heating and cooling configurations, or air filtration considerations which can avoid future indoor air quality concerns.

Improving a buildings indoor air quality can have a number of instant and long-term benefits including improved occupant comfort and health, removal of allergens, reduced business risk and liability, reduced risk of infectious disease transmission, improved productivity and employee confidence, elimination of odors, and lower operating costs by increasing efficiency. In addition, avoiding extreme indoor air quality problems can improve time lost due to building shutdowns and mechanical repairs, reduce legal costs, and avoid negative publicity.

Who Benefits from RHP’s COVID-19 Ventilation Program

RHP’s experts have extensive experience in evaluating a wide variety of building ventilation and air filtration systems in all types of buildings including schools, hospitals, commercial and industrial facilities, and multi-family residential buildings, providing unique and customized engineering solutions based on each assessment. In addition, RHP’s experience and expertise as public health scientists and industrial hygienists has uniquely positioned us as a trusted resource for building owners and managers as we work to control the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the built environment.

Taking steps to reduce the risk of virus transmission has numerous benefits including reducing the risk of an outbreak within your facility which could lead to a costly shutdown, increasing employee confidence that returning to work is safe, improving productivity and maximizing profitability by optimizing operations and building occupancy within current pandemic restrictions, reducing the risk of workers’ comp claims from workplace exposure, and documenting implementation of best‐practices and defensible processes.

Contact RHP for an Assessment of Your Building’s Ventilation System

RHP works closely with clients to provide customized ventilation assessment and services and our experts are a trusted source for managing, mitigating, and controlling health risks in the workplace though the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of environmental and occupational hazards. With many uncertainties associated indoor air quality concerns, hazards, and risks, RHPs staff of public health professionals provide customized best-practice guidance and can assist with the development and implementation of customized building ventilation solutions.

Contact RHP for an initial consultation at rhprisk.com/contact-us or call (773) 867-6010.

For further references and RHP White Papers on the topic, see: rhprisk.com/white-papers

Scientific risk-based guidance and solutions you and your company can trust.

RHP Risk Management is a leader in the field of Industrial Hygiene, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), Built Environment, Risk Management, Dose Estimation & Analysis, and Exposure Simulation Testing. Our highly trained and sophisticated team of professionals work together seamlessly on small and large projects. Our roster includes certified industrial hygienists, public health scientists, risk assessors, certified safety professionals, field staff, an engineer, an anthropologist, an economist, certified paralegals, and support staff.

We work with our clients to develop solutions to their most pressing concerns. Understanding exposures and risks through a grounding in a sound, defensible, state- of- the- art scientific approach gives our clients peace of mind. Empowered by a comprehensive understanding of exposures we can provide, clients are better equipped to recognize previously unseen business risks, manage known risks, target areas for control systems, comply with regulations, and to be braced for regulatory or litigation actions. Senior staff have served as experts in front of stakeholders, public, workers, regulatory, and State and Federal courts.