CU Boulder Professors Call For Indoor Air Quality Standards to Prevent Future Pandemics

Throughout the pandemic, people all over the world have made numerous temporary changes in the name of safety, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Many buildings now have high-tech ventilation or air cleaning systems as well to make gathering inside safer.

A group of 39 scientists from around the world, including two professors at the University of Colorado Boulder, is calling for a “paradigm shift” in combatting the spread of airborne pathogens in indoor settings.

Such practices prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which experts say is predominately spread through the air.

“People are really becoming aware that this is an important issue,” said Dr. Shelly Miller, professor of mechanical and environmental engineering at CU Boulder.

Before organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged the potential for airborne transmission, Miller and colleague Jose-Luis Jimenez were among 239 scientists who signed onto a letter to medical communities and governing bodies warning about the risk of the virus spreading through the air.

“The accumulation of evidence was so obvious to us that by April we were saying, ‘it’s airborne, hello!’” Miller said.

A year later, Miller, Jimenez, and dozens of others around the world are speaking up again. This time, they’ve called for indoor air quality standards in a recent article published in Science.

“We’ve regulated outdoor air because it causes death and disease, we’ve regulated water because it causes death and disease, and food… yet in commercial settings and office buildings and homes, there’s no regulation on air quality inside,” Miller said.

According to Miller, it comes down to better ventilation and air cleaning. Having good systems for both can limit the amount of virus, pollutants, and bacteria in the air.

In her eyes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be best suited to create and uphold regulations, but she has had discussions about the idea with several different cities.

“Air is a public good, and public goods need help to make sure that us private citizens are valuing it and putting the right resources to make it a valued resource,” Miller said.

For Miller, cleaner air indoors means healthier people and less chance of another pandemic.

“It’s a big effort, so it will take many years, but if the right people are at the right table it can happen.”

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