The New Healthy Buildings Conversation

If you’ve been following the healthy buildings discourse over the years, you know it’s evolved a ton. No longer focused solely on indoor air pollutants caused by things like paint, furniture, smog, mold, and forest fires, the narrative has now yielded to post-Covid concerns about ventilation and air quality that will remain a permanent fixture in the discussion of human health and the spaces we inhabit.

One of the more lively voices driving the topic is Dr. Joseph Allen, a director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University's T. H. Chan School of Public Health. It just so happens that Dr. Allen is also the son of NYC-based homicide detective. Now dubbed “The Air Investigator,” Allen’s upbringing gave him an early opportunity to learn the art of inquiry, leading him to set up his own investigative agency later in life before authoring his much-respected book Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity. Allen makes a number of compelling arguments, but the one that left the biggest impression on me is the connection he makes between healthy buildings and positive business outcomes.

This book was first published in April 2020, just a few months after the first Covid-19 case was detected in the U.S. Little did Allen know at the time that this thinking would become even more relevant. “We have not designed, maintained, or operated our buildings with health as the North Star. This has been well documented. But now with Covid, it became obvious that the way you operated your building determined whether people got sick or not and for many businesses determined whether they could stay open,” he said in an interview.

We’ve lived with ‘sick building syndrome’ for over four decades, and the clean air conversation now needs to expand beyond particulate matter (PM) and include viruses and bacteria. Even more interesting are proposals that PM plays a direct role as a “carrier” of SARS-CoV-2, yet another surprising convergence of environmental and human health.

The White House recently posed some calls to action to improve indoor air quality, starting with reducing disease transmission as we move indoors this fall and winter. More on this in the next issue!

The EPA is also thinking about this, and recently put out a request for comments on clean air. The EPA and other agencies are looking to improve our pandemic preparedness. But disappointingly, the agency has not yet made a statement about Far UV-C. Would you like to let them know? You can share your comments here.

The Changing Risk Mitigation Landscape

Aside from cranking up the filtration devices or braving winter open windows, a number of new solutions have recently stepped into the limelight.

At Population we’re especially excited about Far UV-C technology, the core of our first products. Far UV-C technology has made radical advances in the past two years. This human-safe germicidal light (filtered 222 nm) has now been cited by the White House, the CDC, the World Health Organization, and several other respected agencies and organizations. This was not the case before the pandemic.

While regulation in the space still lags, just over a year ago the professional association ACGIH, who has established safe exposure guidelines, increased the threshold limit values (TLVs) by 10X for the eyes and 25X for the skin. Thanks in part to new pandemic-spurred research, they’ve gotten comfortable with people being around vastly increased levels of filtered 222 nm irradiance (closer distances or for longer periods of time), demonstrating increased confidence in Far UV-C for uses in occupied indoor environments. Will this cap get updated yet again? Time will tell.

Trailing these updates are a couple other exciting scientific wins: Ewan Eadie’s research that Far-UVC (222 nm) Efficiently Inactivates an Airborne Pathogen in a Room-Sized Chamber and Columbia University’s New Type of Ultraviolet Light Makes Indoor Air as Safe as Outdoors which shows, “Far-UVC rapidly reduces the amount of active microbes in the indoor air to almost zero, making indoor air essentially as safe as outdoor air.” The New York Times also published a powerful scientist-led op-ed titledWe Have the Technology to Stop Superspreading without Masks,” and other mainstream news outlets are starting to make mention of Far UV-C.

Building for a Better Future

I’m excited to share that Population recently won the prestigious Stevie Award Gold medal for Best Female Entrepreneur - New Business Products. My brief remarks nod to Far UV-C, and state our bold vision to build for a better future:

“Two years ago, we wondered why we didn’t have anything in our physical spaces that functioned like an external immune system. So we started hacking on the emerging 222nm technology that creates an invisible light that kills viruses and bacteria and is safe to be around.
Our vision is taking shape, thanks to people and organizations like you.
We’re building for a future where the spaces in which we work, eat, and socialize are healthier for the entire population."

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