[EXCLUSIVE] How COVID-19 made Indoor Air quality a New Priority in Offices!

Amid ongoing anxiety about the healthiness of indoor spaces, it is time for building owners, asset managers and employers to consider indoor air quality as a proactive measure to bring their teams back safely and encourage people to come back to the office, writes Steve Levine

Over the past decade-plus, there has been a pronounced revolution in workplace strategy in the U.S., as companies have increasingly embraced more open and shared spaces, using team-based and activity-based designs, among others. 

As part of this, companies have also prioritized elements that benefit employee health and wellbeing. A variety of work points, breakout areas and social zones have encouraged movement and combatted sedentary habits. White noise machines have helped to deal with ambient noise and distractions. Meanwhile, architecture has increased the availability of natural light and interior design has put a focus on wood tones, plants and other biophilia, as these have benefits on mood and mental health.

One area that has been overlooked in all this has been indoor air quality. This has been to the detriment of employees, especially since increased face-to-face interactions and movement throughout workplaces may have effects on spreading illness. Similarly, sick building syndrome has been recognized as an issue for decades. The pandemic, however, has increased people’s awareness of the air they are breathing indoors.

Since the widespread switch to remote working during Covid, only approximately 28% of U.S. office workers have returned to their buildings. Though the percentage of office space currently being utilized across the country is still low, that number is expected to rise dramatically between July and October of this year. 

Amid ongoing anxiety about the healthiness of indoor spaces, it is time for building owners, asset managers and employers to consider indoor air quality as a proactive measure to bring their teams back safely and encourage people to come back to the office. An increasing number of commercial owners and employers are turning to bi-polar ionization as the solution for clean, healthy air to promote end user confidence.

Bi-polar Ionization (BPI) significantly reduces the presence harmful pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, mold and allergens, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The technology works by distributing positive and negative ions into the air through existing HVAC system or portable air cleaners, mimicking a natural process that occurs at high altitudes, where the air is fresher and cleaner. Essentially, the ionization causes production of clusters of hydroxyls (OH) radicals, which form on the surface of microbes, removing hydrogen from the microbes’ cell walls, inactivating potentially infectious or harmful particles. 

Cosentini Associates, a long-established building system consulting engineering firm headquartered in New York City, recently deployed our bi-polar ionization technology for continuous disinfection, within their indoor office space in New York City to improve indoor air quality for employees and customers who work and visit their office. As indoor air quality remains a priority for many, Cosentini is measuring and leveraging digital sensors and modular air control technology to provide and maintain optimal indoor air quality within their office space.

With an effort to ensure the health, wellness, and safety within the indoor environment, third-party testing and validation was completed within Cosentini’s office space by April 2021. When our bi-polar ionization is properly applied within the indoor environment, the efficacy of proven results is shown below as to how to reach optimal indoor air quality effectively. 

Cosentini’s effort to deploy bi-polar ionization is one part of the overall solution to a healthier indoor environment. With real-time indoor air quality monitoring and data transparency, employees and visitors can view the quality of the air they are breathing. It is maintained at an optimal level leveraging bi-polar ionization technology and the power of dynamic digital controls, sensors, and real time indoor air quality monitoring. 

Bi-polar ionization technology in Cosentini’s indoor office space, in New York City, significantly increased air ion levels without increasing ozone levels. Our dielectric barrier discharge bi-polar ionization was tested and showed improvements to air quality within indoor spaces when increasing ambient ion levels between 500 and 1,500 ions per cm3. The indoor air quality is continually monitored in the occupied spaces and found to be significantly better than the air outside the building. 

Specifically, at these saturation levels, the system’s technology has shown 85.8% reduction to 0.3-micron particles as tested by the Intertek to ANSI/AHAM AC 1 method. The average reduction in VOC compounds, tested by Syracuse University to ANSI/AHAM AC 2 method came out to 90%. Additionally, ATL testing showed a 99% reduction in aerosolized MS2 Staph and E coli within the air. 

Importantly, AtmosAir bi-polar ionization technology did not contribute to a rise in ozone, and in several areas, ozone levels were higher with our systems turned off. Overall ozone levels with our systems operating were .007 PPM (7 PPB), well below the most stringent guideline for indoor ozone levels of .05 PPM (50 PPB) as established by CARB (California Air Resources Board) and the governmental standard by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) of .1 PPM (100 PPB). Indoor ozone levels without AtmosAir systems operating averaged .017 PPM, (17 PPB). Outdoor ozone that day measured .04 PPM (40 PPB).

AtmosAirTM ionization systems at the offices of Cosentini, utilize dynamic ionization control using the AtmosSmart system which measures and leverages digital sensors to provide for optimal ion output. The sensor array of ionizers continually monitors the dynamic indoor air quality conditions: Temperature, Relative Humidity, Carbon Dioxide, Total Volatile Organic Compounds, Formaldehyde, PM 2.5, Carbon Monoxide and Ozone. 

Threshold value limits are controlled through proprietary algorithms for the measured elements based on existing standards and guidelines for air contaminants (USEPA, WHO, OSHA, NIOSH). As air quality levels change, the ionizer will automatically adjust ion intensity levels for optimal concentrations.

Simply put, more and more people are looking to return to the office soon. Building owners and employers are being more proactive about how they provide transparency in the benefits of the workplace, such as indoor air quality and more. Amenities, culture, technology and team bonding experiences are just a few things employees eagerly anticipate upon their return. 

As companies and owners implement reentry strategies that encourage employees to return safely to the office, they need to deliver on the need for cleaner, breathable air. Bi-polar ionization technology is the choice backed by science allowing people to see air differently.

Steve Levine is the President & CEO of AtmosAir Solutions based in Fairfield, Connecticut. The company specializes in indoor air purification and provides its patented bi-polar ionization indoor air technology for businesses and commercial real estate companies.