IT IS a requirement in the state of New Hampshire to have our automobiles inspected annually by a state-certified inspection station for safety. You imagine what might happen if the brakes are faulty and fail? Someone could be killed.

Yet, there is no requirement for buildings to be inspected for indoor air quality.

To date we have just lost more than 588,000 people in the United States alone to COVID-19, a disease primarily contracted via indoor airborne transmission, according to recent guidance by the CDC and WHO. Still, most buildings are only tested for sufficient ventilation when they are first built, with no requirements for testing or inspections for the remainder of their service, even when considerable modifications are made.

Can you imagine purchasing an automobile and never taking it for service throughout its entire life cycle? Yet, as you read this, the probability that the environment in which you are sitting has sufficient ventilation is very low.

It is time to change this and make the retesting and rectification of building air ventilation systems mandatory.

When I bring this up to some, they suggest people don’t care about air quality. I beg to differ on this point. My suspicion is that people are unaware of the hazards of poor indoor air quality in the same way that most were unaware of the hazards of second-hand smoke until science made it clear and subsequent public education informed people of the danger.

The same is true for indoor air quality today. Airborne pathogens are the leading cause of disease transmission for COVID-19, SARS, MERS, tuberculosis, measles, and the common cold. There is also sufficient evidence to suggest the annual flu is also transmitted as an airborne pathogen.

For those who suggest this is too expensive to implement, let me point out that the cost to clean indoor air is less than it costs to clean the floors in a commercial building. Typical commercial building cleaning costs range from $.07- .15 per square foot. Because cleaning the air can be done with machines, the cost averages about $.03 per square foot. It is not an issue of cost, it’s an issue of the public demanding it, as it did for the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act focused on outdoor air and does not address indoor air quality. It is time for a “Clean Indoor Air Act”.

In 2010 the City of New York Department of Health instituted a grading system and scorecard for food facilities in the city. Inspections are routinely performed by licensed professionals and letters of A, B, and C are issued. If a restaurant gets a low grade, they are expected to improve the situation within a period of time, whereupon a new inspection is performed. Restaurants are required to make the grade visible to the public upon entry to communicate a level of food preparation safety to its customers.

A similar system should be implemented for commercial building air quality. If you would hesitate to eat in a restaurant with a “C” grade due to the potential for food poisoning, why would you eat, work, exercise, or worship in a building with deadly air pathogens that linger for hours after the infected person leaves? It is my job to help educate the public, but it is your job to demand change. Only if the public demands it will change occur.

Paul Bemis is a mechanical engineer and president elect of Granite State American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. He lives in Bristol.

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Thursday, July 15, 2021
Wednesday, July 14, 2021

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