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article imageQ&A: How to improve air quality in wildfire season Special

By Tim Sandle     Oct 15, 2020 in Health
Wildfires have burned more than 2.2 million acres (8,903 Km2) across California so far this year, despite the coming fire season. The fires are creating poor air conditions for many across the state. What can be done to address this issue?
The wildfires have led to poor air conditions, with government agencies such as the EPA declaring the air quality “hazardous” and “unhealthy”. These fires and air pollution issues affect major markets and could end in a financial crisis due to brain drain and an unproductive workforce. So how do agencies fight this?
To look into this issue, Digital Journal spoke with Gebin Maxey is the vice president of technology at HawkenIO, an air quality monitoring software for schools, offices, and commercial buildings.
Digital Journal: What are the main concerns with poor quality air?
Gebin Maxey: Studies from Harvard and others have shown that poor air quality can decrease employee productivity by almost 10% [1] and significantly increase rates of sick leave. It can even decrease student outcomes by as much as a full letter grade.
All of these concerns are compounded during COVID, because of the increased use of cleaning products, and the importance of fresh air to stopping the spread. If you add the poor outdoor air quality caused by the wildfires throughout the western United States on top of that, it becomes a perfect storm for poor air quality. Ensuring proper ventilation and good air quality has never been more important.
DJ: How important, in general, is air quality monitoring?
Maxey: Standards-based air quality monitoring is the number one thing we can be doing to ensure our schools and workplaces are safe and healthy places to live.
DJ: Is the data clearly presented to citizens? How can citizen education be improved?
Maxey:Historically, outdoor air quality has been much better communicated through systems such as EPA’s Air Quality Index, which is a convenient score that’s easy for anyone to understand.
Indoor air quality has not had the same attention paid to it by manufacturers or the government, and as a result there is a lack of awareness surrounding the importance of air quality or the poor conditions that exist in most buildings. At Hawken AQ, it has been a focus of ours from day one to make indoor air quality data clean and easy to understand.
We display an overall score for building air quality in real time on a wall-mounted big screen, like an airport monitor. This has really helped convey building safety and instil peace of mind in the visitors, teachers, and students in our buildings.
DJ: Are there different air quality standards in the public and private sectors?
Maxey:There are multiple national and international standards bodies that set air quality standards, including EPA, OSHA, ASHRAE, and others. There aren’t clean-cut distinctions between the public and private sector. Every building has different needs for ventilation and filtration based on the number of people in the building. This is why it’s critical for an air quality monitoring system to be flexible to multiple standards and the changing needs of the building throughout the day.
DJ: Can air quality assist with coronavirus control measures?
Maxey:Absolutely. In fact, a recent study published in the Scientific Reports journal by Nature showed that improving indoor ventilation had the same effect against influenza virus as vaccinating 50% of a building’s occupants. [4] Ensuring good indoor air quality may be the most important thing we can do to fight COVID after washing our hands.
DJ: What can be done to improve air quality? Is the Presidential election important to these improvements?
Maxey:We think the most important thing is to increase awareness about how critical good indoor air quality is to every aspect of our lives. We have not taken good care of our forests, and our government was not prepared for a pandemic. We’re in a perfect storm because our air quality was neglected for so long. This problem can be entirely avoidable if we improve our regulations around indoor air quality and we modernize our buildings with new technologies. We’re fighting for strong leadership on this issue. We must take action to ensure our buildings are safe places to live and work, and we’re prepared for the future.
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