The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the importance of hand washing, wearing masks and watching the exponential growth curves of this disease. But there is much we do not know.
One concern that has not been addressed is the hazard danger associated with recirculated air in office and manufacturing buildings.
We first encountered the hazard of recirculated air in our personal injury practice representing electronic industry workers suffering from toxic exposures that cause cancer and birth defects. Industrial solvents and toxins were found in offices spaces far from fabrication lines as a result of common air returns in HVAC systems, reduced intake of fresh air on hot days to maximize the reuse of cooler air, and recirculation of old air by ventilation systems. And not just in Silicon Valley, but at a gallium arsenide wafer plant in Oakland, IBM in East Fishkill, NY, United Technologies in Hartford, CT, and National SemiConductor in Greenock, Scotland.
Airlines are addressing air circulation measures to assure passenger safety during the pandemic, but nobody is discussing workplaces that are potentially high-risk locations as temperatures rise this summer and refrigerated air, that keeps the virus potent, is recirculated in ventilation systems.
COVID-19 is spread through droplets and micro droplets. Fresh air mitigates the risk of coming into contact with those droplets. In addition to space, duration of exposure is an important factor in contracting the virus.
If you are working in an enclosed office building or manufacturing plant, you are breathing air that has recirculated three to four times an hour.
With Legionnaire’s Disease, HVAC systems were at fault for recirculating bacteria throughout enclosed spaces in hotels and ships. Today, MERV 13 filters mandated in California in new HVAC systems as of January 1, 2020 can remove 90% of 0.3 micron particles. Typically, the COVID-19 virus attaches to particles or droplets which hopefully would be filtered by a MERV 13 filter.
HEPA filtering systems are used in hospital because they filter 99.97% of particles 0.1 microns and larger, and are a more effective, but not a perfect, solution for the COVID-19 virus that measures 0.13 microns. Offices and manufacturing plants ventilation systems cannot handle the drag that HEPA filtration imposes on mechanical gear, so retrofitting for HEPA filters is an expensive and unlikely option.
The easiest and safest solution in existing HVAC systems is using 100% fresh air. In cooler weather and climates, using 100% fresh air in air conditioning systems is easily accomplished. When weather heats up and HVAC systems are used to cool spaces, they commonly use 60% recirculated air and reduce fresh air intake to 40% of the air recirculated in a building.
Ask you your company or building’s management if MIRV 13 filters have been installed, how often they will be changed, and how they plan to operate at 100% fresh air to minimize COVID-19 circulation in the air conditioning system at your workplace?
Our office building’s HVAC uses MIRV 13 filters. In addition, we have purchased portable carbon and HEPA air purifiers, to provide an increased level of protection for our staff and clients.
Last, if you work in an older building and can open a window, do it.
Alexander Law Group, LLP attorneys are available to answer questions and share our knowledge of the law and the results of our research and experience. Our goal as personal injury lawyers is to make a difference for our clients. Every day we deal with a range of health and safety issues that most people do not encounter until after an injury occurs. As safety lawyers, we are committed to providing our clients and the public with the information for safer and healthier living. Call 888-777-1776 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.