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Indoor air quality standards needed to prevent pandemics

Indoor air quality must be regulated if we want to prevent another pandemic, according to a study from CU Boulder. The experts are calling for urgent recognition that SARS-CoV-2 and other airborne pathogens can be controlled by improving indoor ventilation systems.

“Air can contain viruses just as water and surfaces do,” said study co-author Professor Shelly Miller. “We need to understand that it’s a problem and that we need to have, in our toolkit, approaches to mitigating risk and reducing the possible exposures that could happen from build-up of viruses in indoor air.”

The researchers are asking the World Health Organization to extend indoor air quality guidelines to include airborne pathogens, and to recognize the need to control hazards of airborne transmission of respiratory infections.

Now that the research on SARS-CoV-2 has finally exposed the fact that many respiratory diseases are airborne, the experts argue that we must take action with improved ventilation standards.

“Let’s now not waste time until the next pandemic,” said study co-author Professor Jose-Luis Jimenez. “We need a societal effort. When we design a building, we shouldn’t just put in the minimum amount of ventilation that’s possible, but instead we should keep ongoing respiratory diseases, such as the flu, and future pandemics in mind.”

While there are building safety guidelines for chemicals such as carbon monoxide, there are currently no guidelines that provide standards for mitigating bacteria or viruses in indoor air.

“Air in buildings is shared air – it’s not a private good, it’s a public good. And we need to start treating it like that,” said Professor Miller.

Study lead author Lidia Morawska is the director of Queensland University of Technology’s International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health. She said there needs to be a shift away from the perception that we cannot afford the cost of control.

Morawska noted that the global monthly cost from COVID-19 had been conservatively estimated as $1 trillion and the cost of influenza in the U.S. alone exceeded $11.2 billion annually.

The researchers are also calling for national comprehensive indoor air quality (IAQ) standards to be developed by all countries. In order for this to happen, public awareness will be needed.

“I think there is a certain amount of demand that needs to start coming from the consumer and from the person who works in these indoor spaces in order to push change,” said Professor Miller.

The study is published in the journal Science.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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