The science of indoor air quality
UK air quality expert Dr. Andy Dengel on an invisible threat
Andy is currently Director of Environment in the Building Technology Group at BRE.
He gained a PhD and postdoctoral research experience in chemistry at Imperial College London, publishing extensively on the structures, properties and catalytic oxidising abilities of transition metal complexes.
Andy then spent the next 16 years of his career working in and managing contract analytical laboratories. Starting with drinking water analysis, this took in food and consumer product analysis at a Public Analyst laboratory and latterly the operational/site management of a growing suite of contaminated land/water laboratories for ALcontrol.
Since joining BRE in 2006 Andy has led the IAQ and Chemical Assessment teams, and in 2008 also assumed overall responsibility for the other BRE environmental engineering and consultancy teams (HVAC, Air Pollution, Lighting and Environmental Noise) and in 2013 he became Deputy to the Director of BRE’s 70-strong Building Technology Group.
The transcription of this episode is auto generated by a third-party source. While Microshare takes every precaution to insure that the content is accurate, errors can occur. Microshare, Inc. is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.
Michael Moran [00:00:11] This is manifest density. Hello, everyone, and welcome to this edition of Manifest Entity, your host Michael Moran here, and we are here to explore the intersection of COVID 19 global business and society. And unfortunately, war, which has now entered the picture in Ukraine. Manifest density is brought to you by the global smart building in ESG data company Microshare. Unleash the data and today I speak with. I'm pleased to have with me, Dr. Andy Dingell, who is the director of the environment team at Barry, which is the kind of leading building research establishment in in the UK and has global reach and influence. Andy, welcome to the podcast.
Andy Dengel [00:01:13] Hello, Mike.
Michael Moran [00:01:17] So, Andy, tell us a little about yourself and your work on indoor environments at spirit.
Andy Dengel [00:01:29] Yeah, sure. So I started off as a chemist, so my doctorate was in chemistry and then I went on to do a lot of analytical chemistry. In the last 15 years, I've been at body building research establishment and I've headed up what we loosely call prairie environment, but really, really concerns the indoor environments that we find ourselves living and working in learning in. So it's everything from indoor air quality through to ventilation and H-back and also lighting noise and other other parameters that can affect us when we're in the buildings. And in that we we do various types of work. We do a lot of research, both collaborative research but also commercial research. And there's R&D for people with products in this area. And we also do advisory work and sometimes to street testing of other products or materials to do the indoor air quality.
Michael Moran [00:02:25] So we were talking before the podcast began about the, you know, really new impetus that air quality has gained throughout the pandemic. Obviously, a virus travels through an airborne virus. It's going to be something that alarms you a bit about. The space you're in makes you wonder about what you might have considered a fairly neutral space. But air quality goes back well before the pandemic. Air quality as a as a capability, as a concern in indoor spaces. Can you give us a little background on where the science has come from?
Andy Dengel [00:03:06] Yes, absolutely. I mean, we've been involved here before and before I joined even the last twenty five years when he was some of the the IQ issues that come about and of course, traditionally equality came to the consciousness in terms of external air quality, air pollution and those sort of things. But then gradually over the last maybe 10, 15 years, people start to think, Well, we actually spend more time indoors. Some people spend all of their time indoors. And often they are. The indoor air quality indoors has a great, great potential to affect the health and well-being. So I say the last 15, 20 years, we've seen a gradual increase in awareness, I'd say, of indoor air quality. And of course, the internet and social media really take that to another level in a lot of people start to know, you know, listen to podcasts like they say they they can read things, they can access things and it's getting more on the agenda. And I think before the COVID pandemic, we were starting to see a lot of organizations, whether it be schools, medical corporate offices, whatever. So into place a bit more emphasis on the health and well-being of occupants. Because after all, if your employee isn't happy in their indoor environment, they won't perform as well. They may become ill and they may become absent. So we were starting to see that before the for the pandemic, but I think the pandemic has really thrust it even more into the spotlight.
Michael Moran [00:04:36] I want to look state state pre-pandemic for just a moment and talk about some of the research and some of the case studies that were were floating around before anybody really had it focused on COVID 19. I mean, a lot of these things had to do with preventing absenteeism, preventing the the ill effects of CO2 buildup, which which make people drowsy and toward the end of the day, for instance, could really hit productivity in a workforce. And then there was, you know, the pure health care or the health issues which which had to do with things like the humidity and temperature mix, which can affect the spread of disease. What are some of the factors that go into the pure? Air quality concerns that predated the pandemic.
Andy Dengel [00:05:31] Yeah, so I think a lot of what we used to do used to be reactive in a way which is a pity where people would contact us when they were experiencing problems enough in an office or a school or hospital. And normally that would be one or two or more people experiencing irritation or discomfort or ill health. Then, of course, you have this sort of psychosomatic factors in the so-called sick building syndrome where, you know, open plan always if three or four people become uncomfortable and attribute that to the indoor environment that can start to to spread. So we were starting to do that sort of work and we were developing protocols ready to go in and assess indoor air quality in indoor environments. And we often call it Iizuka, you know, taking everything into account. But there weren't many standards or guidelines for people to hang their hats on as such. There were a lot of schemes, so voluntary schemes such as Brianna, where you can raise a building for a whole load of factors, one of which is air quality ventilation, but very little proactive stuff. But we had, you know, started to look at ways of, yeah, for a reasonable amount of money to be able to go in and assess what's important. And that, first and foremost, would be things, as you said, the CO2 levels, the level of ventilation and also the effects that can come from, you know, too much ventilation or too little things like dampness or on the other hand, dryness of air is too dry and then particular sources of indoor pollutants bosses, for instance, which can make those effects, you know, two out of nine out of 10 people, but one person could be sensitive and have problems. So we were starting to look at that, but really don't know. So it was one to one basis, but I think we had the advent of more technology is going to thrust us all towards a point where there's more measurement going on.
Michael Moran [00:07:30] And you hold that thought we're going to take a break to hear from our sponsor. There will be a little dead air here, and I'll come back. OK, I'm back with Dr. Andy DeAngelo of the British I'm sorry, the building research establishment in the UK. Doctor, is there a. Kind of secret weapon for indoor air quality. We've now seen, as you were mentioning before, we took the break. Technology has really evolved. We've had a pandemic which certainly raised the awareness of the concerns that might be extended in indoor air. But I know iOttie, of course, allows for a certain amount of collection of data. But what's it seems like? There's a real challenge in connecting all the various elements that can affect indoor air quality into a responsive single unit. Is that about is that right?
Andy Dengel [00:08:33] Yes, because it can be quite complex, you know, on the level of CO2, that's reasonably straightforward. I mean, but even then, you know, there can be other factors. But you know, there are so many factors. So it really all comes down to something it a balance between. Energy efficiency, I'd say, in ventilation, because more and more we're seeing very airtight buildings relying on mechanical ventilation. And if that doesn't work properly or isn't designed properly, you can have problems. Of course, some places don't have that luxury and they'll still be problems because there's not the opportunity for the cross ventilation, etc. So to the whole thing really makes it quite difficult to know which premises you should look at. And there are certainly some important markers, but I think where is the the iottie and the ability to share data and collate data and do things with data is really going forward. The technology to have really robust and reliable sensors to do continuous monitoring is a little bit behind when it comes to economies, you know, in terms of financial economy, because really the more you spend, obviously the better you you'll be. But you know, some of the sensors do have limitations, and I think those limitations need to be at least understood before data is collected.
Michael Moran [00:09:59] You know, we had we've had several experiences at Microshare where clients have gone ahead and deployed air quality monitors, IoT monitors. And discovered the air was less than ideal, and their decision, rather than to take remedial steps, was to remove the air quality monitors and pretend like they'd never found this out. It's not a very progressive way to approach it, obviously. But is that a common problem? Is there is the is the reaction so complex that you find some people would just rather not know?
Andy Dengel [00:10:42] Yes, I think I think it's all about, first of all, deciding, you know, what you're trying to do and who you're going to share the data with and how much data because and then more importantly than anything, are you prepared to act on it? I think you just touched on the worst case scenario there they're acting on. It is removing the measurement. But it is important. And I think, you know, all sorts of organizations at the moment, I think, are wrestling with this problem in that, you know, if they're going to do this and they do, and if you do either well or you don't do so well anyway, there'll be lots of data. And if you're if you're sharing that with a with a lot of people, there's a lot of different little subjectivity. People will look at different things and you've got a problem. If, for instance, a red light starts flashing when there's, for instance, voices are deemed to be high and so on. So we're thinking, well, wait a minute, the air quality is not good. What's my employee or my landlord going to do about it when in fact, it could have been a false positive? Because, you know, for the sort of sensors we're talking about, they're not always as selected as he might wish. And things can actually trigger trigger responses. So I think there's a bigger piece here in terms of, you know, really thinking. Do I want to do this? How are we going to do it and how are we going to share data are all prepared to go the whole way and then work with the the people who have effectively been being monitored to try to show that you want to do something about it?
Michael Moran [00:12:17] You know, there was a pretty well-traveled story a few months back in the New York Times, where parents of children in the New York City Public Schools were sneaking air quality monitors into their lunchboxes and backpacks and then showing up at the Parent Teacher Association meetings and raising hell about the air quality in the schools. Is that is that indicative of what you think the COVID pandemic has done to people's realization about all this?
Andy Dengel [00:12:52] I think so. I think it is a real possibility and I say these things are quite affordable. You know, you can buy some some of some of these things, single parameter things for maybe under $500, I don't know. But even but in our in our experience, even ones that cost multiple hundreds of dollars or pounds, we'll still have limitations in and a lot of cases simply because the parameters that they are trying to measure are very complex in themselves. I think CO2, the sensors there, they're much more mature and at the end of the day, you're looking for one one, one compound or molecule. But if you're looking for bio seeds and you have a sense of the claims, look at total doses or tbose. That's pretty much impossible for that sort of sensor because there are so many different viruses that will give different responses. So it's a very complex parameter and similar.
Michael Moran [00:13:45] Can you define viruses? I don't think most of the audience will understand what that
Andy Dengel [00:13:48] yes, VOCs, volatile organic compounds. So it's a whole whole range of different chemicals that have to volatile always will be big vapor at room temperature. And they include anything from something like petrol. So if you think of petrol, that's a good example. You can smell the volatile organics and petrol go right through to lots of things we use in in our in our homes and in our offices, the cleaning products. And through to the furnishings of paints and varnishes. Air fresheners, you know, people may have may use plug in air fresheners. They emit VOCs, so there's a whole whole range of seasons. Some are potentially hazardous. Some are potentially irritable. Some won't be. But the point is in anyone's face, there may be dozens of different voices and so sensitive to look at so-called tbo AOC is really oversimplifying.
Michael Moran [00:14:50] Does there in any way virus come into this, I mean, things that travel through the air as well, which may not have a particular. Telltale odor sensors, are there sensors that can actually find these kind of things in the air?
Andy Dengel [00:15:11] Yeah, we don't know. I don't think at the very top level as we speak, people probably working on ways to, for instance, you know, to to detect COVID 19 in the air, for instance. I think there's been work done on surfaces, but the problem is you're really dealing with surrogates in a way it's a part of the particles. Viruses are particles in very small particle size range, which we call ultra fine particles. So if you can have a sense of it looks for ultra fine particles, that's particles under one micron. So. You know, there's an indication that if you can remove if, for instance, an air purifier or a piece of ventilation reduces the amount of ultrafine particles, then it's a pretty it's a pretty good assumption that you will be doing something to either remove or reduce the amount of virus particles in the air. But as we stand at the moment, there's nothing that I know certainly to be able to do in reducing buildings to actually sense virus particles. So you're really into the realms of, you know, looking at the closest surrogate, which in this case would be small particles.
Michael Moran [00:16:22] And there's, you know, one of the things I wanted to talk to you about is the reaction to an indication that air is substandard. So the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. has a as a kind of basic best practices guide on its website. And they they run through things like the obvious, which are, you know, open a window, you know, down to, you know, essentially having that tough conversation with your HVAC company to see whether there's something they can do with it. The one thing that stood out for me was they have a very they're they're not saying that air purifiers, even those with HEPA filters are particularly effective and they're not, you know, they're not saying they're useless, but it's not part of their recommended reaction to poor air quality. Why is that?
Andy Dengel [00:17:24] I think you know that on top of those, of course, with the things that you probably thought about before resource control, you know, there are things you could do in terms of hopefully reducing sources of air pollution, but coming onto the things like filters and other air purifiers. I think it's because they're all good in principle, but they all have to be used properly and sited properly and maintained properly. And I think that that's the thing where we're lagging behind. So, for instance, the HEPA filters need changing every so often. If you're going to sell air purifiers that are actually using Nuvei or Ozone or combinations of those things to change the chemistry of the air, then you've always you've got problems that you might produce, byproducts you don't want. And certainly in the UK, the Sage Group, which advise the government on COVID and other issues, are saying be very careful before you tax things simply because. There's a chance that you may you may cause other problems. We'd like to see more standards for these sort of things, both filter systems and they have HEROFi assembly so that people can have some confidence but know that their only one. I think only one part of the armament or the armory, if you like to combat bad air quality, I think it's the combination has to be. Things like opening windows, if you can, but then being careful, you don't do so if there's pollution outside. There's a lot of occupant behavior and the way people use buildings. There's a bit about source control. I think if all those fail, then of course you do need to start. First of all, monitoring to some extent and then using some sort of, you know, ventilation or air purification technology on top of what's already there. But I think it's I'm not saying it's the last resort. But I think there's a there's a sort of a hierarchy of things you might want to try and do before you got to that to that extent, because it can be hard to do it in large buildings and complex buildings.
Michael Moran [00:19:26] And you mentioned something interesting the the open the window thing. You know, obviously you've got to be selective. If you're in Beijing, you don't open the window. There is, I mean, early in my career, I would say an Associated Press reporter in a city in the U.S., Newark, New Jersey, not notable for its clear air. And in fact, the State Department of Environmental Protection noted that the place where the Associated Press put the bureau, which was at the confluence of some rail yards, the runways at Newark airport and three interstate highways was measured as the worst air in the state. Luckily, because of the Associated Press penchant for trying to save money, we used to say You can't spell cheap without AP. We had no windows anyway, so we couldn't open the windows. But no, but I can totally relate to that because you would walk outside the door and realize that you were surrounded by particulate matter. You know, that brings up an interesting question what is someone to do in an environment which exist all over the world? Places like Mumbai and Beijing and many industrial cities where the air quality outside is is almost certainly worse than whatever you're experiencing inside is. How do you unravel those kind of conundrums?
Andy Dengel [00:20:55] And I think that is the big problem when it comes to, you know, just having to shut the windows and knowing when you can open the windows. In other words, almost monitoring or, you know, when there's a time when there's no air pollution outside, so you get some ventilation. But then the rest of the time just keeping it out. I think that that's the big problem here. It was different. All buildings are different. All localities are different. And then, you know, we have the other problem where people are encouraged to open windows, but because they're in high storey buildings, the health and safety regulations say you can only open the windows 10 centimeters. So the opportunity for sort of cross ventilation and proper ventilation is very small because it is only a very small OpenTable amount of windows, so it really is, you know, it can be a varied problem, depending where you are. But it definitely comes down to, I think, more public awareness. And some of that is out there on the internet. But I just we we we feel it needs to be more targeted and almost brought into school curricula because it's such an important thing. You know, bad air quality, as we know, can have the potential to cause health effects, and some of the worst damage can be done to respiratory systems, you know, when people are young. And some of that, some of those things that they may experience due to bad air quality and then, you know, go and live with them for the rest of their lives. So there's some very good work done in this country in the UK by the Royal College of Physicians and also the Royal College of Pediatricians and Child and Child Health. Big studies looking at, you know, scientific indoor air quality and air quality and its effects on people throughout their lives and starting to look at how we can educate people to do the best they can to to limit their exposure.
Michael Moran [00:22:52] Andy, hold on right there, we're going to take one more break. OK, we're back with Dr. Randy DeAngelo of the building research establishment in the UK. Any right before the break, we were talking about the studies that were now being mounted to look at the real long term health effects of poor air quality, of course, in my youth. I remember very well in the U.S. it was those kind of studies of outdoor air pollution that led to things like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act as a twin and really kind of in the start of the environmental movement back in the 70s and 80s. Are we now seeing a regulation that's inevitable? I know there is some in the U.K., there's some in in specific jurisdictions in the United States like New York City and some of the more progressive cities around the country. But are we likely now to see much more focus from regulators on indoor air quality?
Andy Dengel [00:23:59] I think we're getting towards that. But I say it's always it's always difficult because if you going to do that, you then you need to be able to incentivize house builders and other developers to think more about it. But I think we're starting to see the need to look more indoor outdoor air because as you said, we've known about it a long time and there is a monitoring zone in the UK now, and I'm sure that's the case in the US and other places. Lots of monitoring of outdoor air to the point where you can go on to government website in the UK and find out, you know, the particle level will be an O2 level at any one time near to where you live. But there just isn't the data indoors, and I think this is being recognized by certainly the government departments I talked to. You know, where's the large study that starts to really look at indoor air quality and measuring? The last one that I know of was done by the Bay Area cells 20 25 years ago when we monitored 900 houses for a whole range of parameters that gave some good indications of the salt levels you can get in houses. But of course, twenty five years has seen a whole new way of building more modern methods of construction, the air efficient natural indoor energy efficiency agenda. So things have changed and there are studies out there, but they tend to become just very small samples of houses or or one development. So I think there's very much a call for bigger studies and then link that to the to the effects on health and well-being more. And I think we need quick studies that happened immediately rather than three to four year collaborative research. It's brilliant. But you can often take two years to conceive it and then four years to do the research and another year to disseminate. I don't think we necessarily want to take that long. I think some stuff needs to be done now. To look at the real situation and what what government can then do and use its regulation and use its incentivization to promote change.
Michael Moran [00:26:08] And I want to ask a question, it's not about air quality, I know your your title is about the IS reference. Sorry, your title references indoor environments generally, and there's a lot more to indoor environments than air. One of the things that also has been subject to study over the years is the extent to which high decibels or the wrong lumens brightness. You know, getting that kind of a mix wrong can be very damaging to people as well. Could you talk about that for a second?
Andy Dengel [00:26:45] You are very important, so a lot like, for instance, is very important for many reasons, not only in having the right amount of light and the right spectrum of light. If you like to do the tasks which you need to do, whether that be reading or some other wherever Typekit might be. And also, there are some big influences on the amount of sunlight the daylight people get. Effects on circadian rhythms. And also, of course, the thing people forget is, you know, too much sunlight into a building then causes heating and thermal discomfort. Settings and lighting is very, very important. And also. A sound and a noise, and there are two two main things here, there's there's plenty about what we call background noise or environmental noise, and then there's. Acute noise due to certain processes, and I think often the more important one is because you can often do something if you know there's going to be some particular noise in there, loud people can take some action. But it's really the background level of background noise and the the frequencies involved that can can cause problems in in workplaces and homes. So very important to take those into consideration, as well as things like ventilation and equality in a holistic. Assessment, and I know that in the UK, there are some moves towards having some some standards which really take in all of these parameters in an overall assessment of an indoor space so that, you know, so that nothing gets left out. Because if you treat one and leave the other three, you can have problems.
Michael Moran [00:28:27] I think just as with the pandemic, air quality has become something that people pay attention to tinnitus and issues of hearing loss have have become more focused upon in recent years. I suffer from it myself, I should say, which is not surprising. I spent years in very loud cities and played rock and roll in a band. I ride motorcycles. I covered wars when I was a journalist. I mean, I've been in some pretty loud environments and you know, there's a persistent ring. And I think there's a lot of people now that have this issue and it's become a much more front and center issue. Is that something that you're seeing employers be concerned about because there's not tonight specifically, but just let decibel levels background noise? Is there a demand in the market? I guess is the way I should ask it for it, for the kind of measurements that would help people prevent these problems.
Andy Dengel [00:29:34] Overall, not suffice to say, it's another thing that comes into the good. These things are measured for if people want credit for an environmental assessment scheme and they sometimes measure when people have already come forward with problems. Unfortunately, the sort of proactive measurement is quite rare in my experience. And so it's not my particular specialty acoustics, but certainly a lot of what goes in the design stage and stuff like that. And as I said, to get credits for four environmental schemes in terms of actually in occupation measurement. Certainly, I would. I'd say not enough is done. Some some projects have employees will do this, but often in my experience, it's people who are exposed to very loud sounds, for instance, you know, in a workshop or a lab or a factory. They will then have hearing tests as part of their occupational health. But I think we're missing a lot of other people who are exposed, not through, not through the incident to their occupation exposure at work, if you like. So I guess my answer is we probably need to do more and a much more proactive basis.
Michael Moran [00:30:48] Any of this has been tremendously fascinating, I could continue forever. And thinking about all the train stations and fire stations I've lived next to in London and New York and other cities in the course of my life and damage that probably did. But in any case, would you give the audience a sense of how they could learn more about these issues and follow your work at? Very.
Andy Dengel [00:31:18] Yes, certainly, I mean, the first of will very quickly say is that we some of we see some of the worst cases. So if I've painted a bad picture, you know, always that concern is something to think about. And if you need more information, please go to our website, which is W WW dot Beharie Group dot com. And under testing, you'll see a section on indoor environments that will give you some information and also some some publications that we've done on things like ensuring good air quality and good lighting for for health and well-being. And there's a lot more on on the website connecting that with our aspects of the built environment.
Michael Moran [00:32:03] Thank you, Doctor. I'll ask one more question if you were going to read one study on the importance of air quality. What would it be in your recommendation?
Andy Dengel [00:32:16] And there's there's a report called Every Breath We Take is the RCP, so if you if you put in Royal College of Physicians, Physicians, RCP, I'm sure it's called every, every breath we take. That's a sort of it was about 2016, but it really sets the scene about air quotes. And although most of it's not outdoor air quality, it references the importance of indoor air quality. And in fact, it's led to another report since when I say every breath we take by the RCP. We'll give you a very good understanding of both air quality and its potential effects on people's physical and mental health.
Michael Moran [00:32:58] Well, thank you so much, Dr. Andy Tangle theory, of course, you can learn more about microshare and how we're helping get the world safely back to work with our every smart suite of products, including every smart air, which is directly related to this conversation, every smart, clean, smart space. You can also subscribe to Manifest Density on the website or download it on iTunes, Google Play, iHeartRadio, Spotify and other platforms. But that'll do it for this week. And on behalf of Microshare and its global employees, I want to thank Dr. Randy Dango again and say, This is Mike Moran saying so long. Be well and thank you for listening.