September 1, 2017

How Innovations in Indoor Air Quality show signs of relief for Harvey

Julie Spitkovsky, LinkedIn

On August 26, 2017, 26 children were born during category four Hurricane Harvey, the strongest storm to make landfall since Charley in 2004. Texas and parts of Louisiana are now tasked with keeping these newborns and the 13 million people under flood watch protected from airborne infections.

So far 450,000 people are seeking FEMA assistance. Many properties in the affected areas were built before the ban on the use of asbestos and lead-based paints and building materials. Cleanup activities and demolition can easily aerosolize these materials creating a health hazard to anyone nearby.

Harvey presents new challenges to public health and safety. Airborne, waterborne, and foodborne diseases occur for up to 1 month after a natural disaster. Currently, one-third of Houston is under 11 trillion gallons of water, an accumulation of more water in 1 day than an entire year of rain in Seattle, while 55,000 people in Port Arthur, where the nation’s largest oil refinery closed down, are endangered by flooding from Beaumont.

Even clean rain water, Category 1 water damage, can begin to grow mold within 48 hours of entering the building. Exposure of 32,000 people in shelters to conditions conducive to biological contamination (e.g., dampness, water damage) can cause nonspecific upper and lower respiratory symptoms, triggering asthma attacks.

The American Lung Association, American Medical Association, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identify outdoor air, human occupants who shed viruses and bacteria, animal occupants (insects and other arthropods, mammals) that shed allergens, indoor surfaces and water reservoirs where fungi and bacteria may grow, such as humidifiers, as sources of biological air pollutants.

The lung is the most common site of injury by airborne pollutants

Indoor environments host biological agents that can cause three types of human disease: infections, where pathogens invade human tissues; hypersensitivity diseases, where specific activation of the immune system causes disease; and toxicosis, biologically produced chemical toxins that cause direct toxic effects. A number of factors allow biological agents to grow and be released into the air. Especially important is high relative humidity, which encourages dust mite populations to increase and allows fungal growth on damp surfaces.

The lung is the most common site of injury by airborne pollutants. The Center for Disease Control warns that communicable disease outbreaks can occur when sanitation and hygiene are compromised as a result of natural disaster. 350 patients at Ben Taub Hospital, Houston’s largest Level 1 trauma center, began evacuating patients Sunday, however rising water levels prevent relocation and facilities are running out of food. Weather and flood disasters expose survivors and responders to increased risks of respiratory infection disease, the most common infectious diseases in survivors. Sources of microbial application are HVAC systems, air intakes near contamination such as standing water, organic debris, humidification systems, cooling coils, and condensate drain pans in hospitals.

A critical area in environmental monitoring, Particulate Monitoring, is key to the prevention of such Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI’s). Poor indoor air quality increases the transmission of airborne infectious disease. Studies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found an airborne concentration of infectious agents is produced during coughing and sneezing in the form of microscopic particles. People with pneumonia, a lung infection, due to MRSA, what is commonly known as a staph infection, can transmit MRSA by airborne droplets.

Continuous IAQ Monitoring allows for real time response actions. As a result of the Internet of Things, we have the ability to analyze large amounts of data stored in the cloud and convert quantitative data into qualitative data. Environmental monitoring of 23 Houston area hospitals with over 14,000 patients advances hurricane relief through the real-time gathering of information about air quality, reducing the adverse effects of airborne pollutants and the spread of infections across contaminated public spaces.

As a result of Hurricane Harvey, over 600,000 residential structures and over 85,000 commercial buildings sustained damage that will require some degree of a demolition or removal of materials including flooring components, drywall, plaster walls, ceilings, furniture, and mechanical systems. During the removal process, dust is generated at such a quick rate spreading particulates throughout occupied spaces and causing aerosolization of contaminants. Low-cost cloud based Indoor Air Quality monitors and devices are a significant tool during the removal processes to optimally transmit and communicate information about indoor pollutants in real-time and ensure timely remedial measures.

In particular, high occupancy commercial buildings such as multi-story buildings, hotels, hospitals, multi-tenant facilities, and industrial facilities that combine manufacturing with office spaces are just some of the infrastructure that will require demolition and removal relief from Harvey over the next year. Long term continuous monitoring increases the health and safety of both the survivors and responders. Multiple devices can be installed throughout a facility for the best assessment of IAQ and “big picture” of what is occurring in the facility. And most importantly, all the devices can be monitored, simultaneously, by a mobile phone, tablet or desktop.

Finding a device that measures multiple parameters such as microscopic particulates less than 10 microns in size, temperature, relative humidity, carbon dioxide, total volatile organic compounds, air pressure, and formaldehyde; all components of concern for indoor air quality has never been easier.