The time for breakthroughs certainly seems to have come to stay. Ambitious proposals to preserve indoor air quality are becoming more frequent, and now more than ever it is impossible to look the other way and ignore what is happening.

Recent research, led by a team of 39 researchers and published by the journal Science, highlighted the need to modify current building construction patterns and orient them towards better ventilation systems. For experts, it is of great importance to recognize the lethality of respiratory infections, as well as the risk of exposure to contaminated environments, which can be prevented with efficient ventilation systems.


Background to the study

With the arrival of COVID-19, engineering measures to limit the transmission of respiratory infections became more noticeable. However, this type of pathology is not part of a recent discovery, as it has been known for decades that controlling airborne infections will cost society less than enduring it.

Today, the benefits of clean indoor air go beyond infection control. Alongside this study, other research has highlighted how clean air positively influences the well-being, productivity, and learning of those who breathe it. Therefore, special emphasis is placed on preserving air quality and establishing guidelines to regulate the transmission of infections through the air.


New guidelines to preserve indoor air quality in the future

Based on the ventilation protocols published by the World Health Organization (WHO) to deal with the pandemic, the authors of this research assure that "future ventilation systems must follow well-known principles: they must be demand-driven, flexible and dependent on the purpose and activity carried out (occupant density, physical activity, use of voice, etc.). Most importantly, they must deliver clean air to the breathing area and remove the contaminated air immediately before it is completely mixed into a volume of space".

In turn, because "current construction systems have not been designed to limit respiratory infections," experts suggest applying the following guidelines:

  • WHO air quality standards should be expanded to include air-borne pathogens. The guidelines should recognize the need to control the dangers of airborne transmission of respiratory infections. A good step in this direction is the ventilation road map recently published by the WHO, but more action is needed.
  • Professional engineering organizations should develop comprehensive ventilation standards that include the control of respiratory infections.
  • Current standards need to be improved to explicitly consider infection control in their statements of purpose and definitions.
  • New solutions and incentives should be developed to encourage the implementation of these standards, for example, ventilation certificates similar to those of food hygiene certification for restaurants.
  • Wide use of monitors that show the status of IAQ should be required. Currently, the public is not very aware of the importance of IAQ. There are sensor technologies to display numerous parameters that characterize the IAQ. Visible screens will help to ensure that building operators remain responsible for ensuring good BTI and promote public awareness.


For researchers, the changes proposed in this article should be taken with as much importance as the changes implemented in 19th century Britain, when the government encouraged cities to organize drinking water supplies and centralized sewerage systems.

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