Air must be regulated in the same way as food and water to prevent the next pandemic, a team of experts said.
The group of 39 researchers from 14 countries has called for a “paradigm shift” in the fight against airborne viruses, such as Covid-19, in particular to gain more recognition for the importance of improving indoor ventilation systems.
“Air can contain viruses, as can water and surfaces,” said report co-author Shelly Miller of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“We need to understand that it is a problem and that in our toolkit we need approaches to mitigate the risks and reduce the potential exposures that can arise from the build-up of viruses in the indoor air.
” The researchers have called on the World Health Organization and other governing bodies to expand their indoor air quality guidelines to include airborne pathogens and recognize the need to control the dangers of airborne transmission of respiratory infections.
They said such a shift in standards should be comparable in scale to the 19th-century transformation that took place when cities began organizing clean water supplies and centralized sewage systems.
“Let’s not waste time now until the next pandemic,” said study co-author Jose-Luis Jimenez. “We need a social effort. When designing a building, not only do we need to minimize ventilation, but instead we need to consider persistent respiratory illnesses such as influenza and future pandemics.
The long-standing misunderstanding of the importance of airborne pathogen transmission has left a great gap in information about how best to build and manage ventilation systems to reduce the spread of disease, the scientists said.
buildings focus on temperature, odor control, energy consumption and perceived air quality, so while there are safety guidelines for chemicals such as carbon monoxide, there are currently no guidelines, worldwide or in the US, that regulate or provide standards for reducing indoor bacteria or viruses as a result of human activities.
”Air in buildings is shared air – it is not a private good, it is a public good. And we have to treat it like that, ”said Miller.
Lead author Lidia Morawska also said there is a need to shift the perception that we cannot afford the cost of verification. influenza in the US alone was more than $ 11.2 billion per year.
While detailed economic analysis has yet to be made, estimates suggest that necessary investments in building systems may amount to less than 1 percent of the construction cost of a typical building.
Ventilation systems also need to be demand-driven to adapt to different room occupations and different activities and breathing rates, such as exercising in a gym versus sitting in a movie theater, Morawska said.
Spaces that can’t improve ventilation to a level suitable for the use of the space require air filtration and disinfection, she said.
The researchers also advocate that all countries develop and maintain comprehensive national indoor air quality standards, and that this information be available to the public.