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Prior to Covid-19, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) was first recognized as important in 1976 after the American Legion held their three-day convention in July. After leaving the convention, 149 Legionnaires became sick and 33 people associated with the hotel convention center also became sick. Ultimately, 29 people died from contracting Legionnaires Disease from the facility. Legionnaires Disease is a respiratory disease caused by L. pneumophilia a bacterium. It took upwards of three years to figure out that the sickness came from the facility and was not a viral infection. It was determined that the bacteria thrived in the cooling towers and was distributed throughout the hotel convention center through the ventilation system infecting the building occupants.
Since 1976, IAQ has been a subject that has been relatively ignored by facility managers and most of the HVAC industry until the past year. The American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has only in the past few years begun to address IAQ as an actual impediment to building occupants. Prior to then and even still ASHRAE’s focus is on Thermal Comfort and energy efficiency. In 2017, ASHRAE introduced Standard 52.2-2017 -- Method of Testing General Ventilation Air-Cleaning Devices for Removal Efficiency by Particle Size (ANSI Approved). This works towards the removal of particles from the airflow via mechanical methods. It fails to address the particulate that is circulated within the ventilation system and becomes entrapped on the internal surfaces of the system. ASHRAE also issued Standard 170-2017 -- Ventilation of Health Care Facilities (ANSI/ASHRAE/ASHE Approved) to again begin to address the ventilation needs of HVAC systems. This standard never addressed the cleanliness of the HVAC system itself. ACCA/ASHRAE/ ANSI Standard 180-2018 is the standard practice for inspection and maintenance of Commercial Building HVAC Systems. “The purpose of this standard is to establish minimum HVAC inspection and maintenance requirements that preserve a system’s ability to achieve acceptable thermal comfort, energy efficiency, and indoor air quality in commercial buildings.” Only it fails to even mention cleanliness of all the HVAC System components including the ductwork. More recently just prior to Covid-19 coming on the scene, ASHRAE introduced Standard 62.1-2019 -- Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality (ANSI Approved). This standard again focuses on what is acceptable but again fails to address the need for HVAC system cleanliness.
During 1992, The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) introduced ACR, The NADCA Standard for Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration of HVAC Systems. This standard has been regularly updated. You can view the 2021 edition here. This standard directly addresses the need to clean HVAC Systems to ensure that the outside ambient air and recirculated air that is traveling through HVAC Systems to occupied spaces is traveling through a clean HVAC system. It is only common sense to ensure that we are protecting our most valuable resource – Our building occupants.
Now that we are in the age of Covid-19, we have seen our government, national publications and the news discuss IAQ and the importance of the ventilation systems in this equation. The reoccurring theme that we have heard is that the ventilation system plays a key role in the challenge to maintain healthy IAQ in our buildings. There is no one answer to solve the IAQ question. What we do know is that debris and particulate matter travels through and can accumulate in HVAC systems no matter what type of filtration or protection that you have added to the system. Simple inspections show us that ductwork and HVAC components get dirty time and time again.
We know that the debris can cause the HVAC components to not function as designed. We also know that the debris including harmful particulates can be dislodged and travel into the occupied spaces effecting our employees, kids, parents, and anyone else who enters the building or facility. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the humans spend on average 95% of their time indoors. It is time to address this urgent need and continually take care of the indoor environment where we live. We cannot afford to let the emphasis on IAQ die down and become a “back of the burner” capital expenditure after we are all inoculated and Covid-19 is a distant memory.
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