Current rules on office ventilation are failing to stop infections, including COVID-19, according to research published in the journal Science.
It says that “a paradigm shift” is now needed on the scale of the reforms that helped to clean up British cities in the 19th century, which combated the spread of Cholera.
The appeal comes amid growing evidence that the coronavirus is often transmitted via infectious aerosols in crowded indoor spaces.
According to the paper, A paradigm shift to combat indoor respiratory infection, while governments have passed strict regulations on the safety of food, sanitation and drinking water, there is far less emphasis on pathogens in the air.
In part, this is because it’s easier to identify a single water pipe or package of food that might be the cause of an outbreak than to track down an airborne source.
According to the study, building designers have for decades focused on keeping people at a comfortable temperature or on saving energy.
Now, the paper argues, there is evidence from studies of cases in restaurants, ships and schools that respiratory infections can be passed through the air.
It suggests that “the way we design, operate and maintain buildings influences transmission”.
While World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on indoor air quality cover chemicals such as benzene and carbon monoxide, they do not recommend any standards for bacteria or viruses.
A landmark report on sanitation by Edwin Chadwick in 1842 highlighted the shocking plight of the poorest urban dwellers, many suffering from diseases caused by contaminated water.
It led to a huge programme of investment in networks to supply water and to handle sewage.
An effort on a similarly vast scale is needed now, the experts say, to clean up the air in our buildings, cut the number of pathogens and improve health “just as we expect for the water coming out of our taps”.
The paper quotes estimates that improving ventilation to reduce airborne infections would add less than 1% to the cost of a typical building.
To read the full paper click here.