Managing IAQ in Commercial Building During Wildfire Season

Managing IAQ in Commercial Building During Wildfire Season

Topic: 2023 Central Canada Wildfires

The 2023 wildfire season is here and has already had a devastating impact across central Canada. As hazy and dangerous fumes make their way south across the US border, most of the Northeast coast is experiencing serious air quality issues that are affecting millions of people. And, because smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gasses and fine particulate matter, it is highly inhalable and can cause respiratory and cardiovascular health effects. 

But, when a smoke event occurs, it can take days to weeks for air quality to improve. If not properly addressed, smoke can get inside of buildings and negatively impact indoor air quality (IAQ).  Building owners and facility managers need to know the best practices for reducing exposure to smoke inside offices, schools, and housing facilities.

Facts about IAQ

Outdoor air, including the fine particles from wildfire smoke, can enter a building in a few ways, including: 

- Natural Ventilation: Open windows and doors

- Mechanical Ventilation: Bathroom fans, kitchen fans, and HVAC systems with fresh air intake 

- Infiltration: Openings, joints, cracks

When smoke events occur, local and state health departments may issue air quality alerts notifications when specific actions are needed to protect the public. Building managers should use these notifications to know when to initiate mitigation measures in their smoke readiness plan, which should include these steps: 

1. Evaluate the HVAC Systems

To minimize occupant exposures and health impacts from smoke during wildfire events, facilities should first address any issues with their existing HVAC systems. In buildings where the HVAC system uses air-handling units that bring outside air into buildings or recirculate indoor air, facility owners and managers should follow a planning framework, like the guidelines set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).  This includes: 

- Performing maintenance on HVAC

- Upgrading filters

- Optimize system airflows 

- Adding supplemental filtration 

- Limiting areas for smoke intrusion 

- Adding the ability to monitor particulate matter

- Assessing how to create cleaner air

2. Stock up on portable air scrubbers

Additionally, those in areas prone to fires may consider purchasing equipment to improve IAQ during the duration of a smoke event. Portable air scrubbers, like  our PRED750, are self-contained air filtration devices that can be used alone or with central air filtration to effectively remove harmful particles from the air.The portable air scrubber should be equipped with a high-efficiency HEPA filter and be the right size for the room. It’s important to secure these crucial devices before a fire occurs in order to act quickly during a smoke event. In the event of emergencies, it’s important to find an air scrubber supplier that has the ability to ship orders as quickly as possible.

3. Choose the right filter 

Some air scrubbers are compatible with activated carbon filters.These filters are available for  all of Abatement Technologies’ HEPA-filtered equipment, including the PRED750 mentioned above. Activated carbon is a unique material that is often used to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs), odor, and other pollutants from the air, making it the optimal solution for smoke filtration. The benefits of activated carbon filters include their ability to adsorb a variety of vapor contaminants, organic molecules (especially solvents), and chemicals, as well as their large capacity to catalytically destroy ozone, a major component of smog. 

In addition to smoke, Abatement Technologies’ portable air scrubbers and carbon filters have been used to filter out a number of odors from buildings including chemicals, cleaning solvents, mildew, mold, and biohazards. 

Want to learn more about how Abatement Technologies can help protect your building during wildfire smoke events? Get in touch with one of our Aire Guardian experts.

5 Years Later – How Abatement Technologies Aided Hurricane Maria

September is historically the time of year with the most optimal conditions for the formation of hurricanes in the mid-Atlantic region. Because of the high amounts of humidity and warm air in the Caribbean, its geographical location houses the perfect conditions for catastrophic hurricanes. In fact, this year marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, the deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated the northeastern Caribbean in September 2017.

As a result of Hurricane Maria, the island of Puerto Rico lost most of its essential services’ infrastructure, communities were leveled, many were displaced, and thousands of lives were lost. Five years after the disaster, the reconstruction and restoration efforts on the island are still ongoing. Following the immediate devastation in 2017, Abatement Technologies customer and restoration expert, Pat Dooley, was contracted to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to do an assessment of the flood damage in the Mall of San Juan, a 1,580,000 square-foot shopping mall that first opened its doors in 2015. Upon initial assessment, Pat and his team discovered that nearly 18 inches of water had flooded the mall.

As a result of the hurricane, there were travel and equipment delays that prohibited Pat and his team from arriving in Puerto Rico until 14 days after the hurricane had already passed. Because mold incubates from a spore for 12 to 24 hours, and starts showing visual signs of growth in 48 to 72 hours, the team was challenged upon arrival with remediating severe mold growth. When remediating mold, it’s important to remove every spore to prevent regrowth. Because of this, workers had to cut and remove drywall and other materials, which lead to dust and other potentially harmful particles in the air.

In order to safely contain the mold, Pat and his team decided to bring in 100 of Abatement Technologies’ air filtration devices. These devices were situated throughout the mall to help remove any harmful particulates, bioaerosols and volatile organic compounds that were released into the air during the project. By leveraging this equipment, the team was able to help protect the short and long-term health of those involved and helped ensure that they were breathing the cleanest air possible. 

As a remediation and restoration expert, Pat is an IICRC Instructor and is the founder of what is known today as the Applied Structural Drying Course. Leveraging his education and experiences, like the project in Puerto Rico, Pat has carried out water restoration projects with a total value of nearly $14.7 million and has participated in numerous natural disaster restoration projects. With a passion for helping and protecting people, Abatement Technologies is proud to work with remediation and restoration experts, like Pat, to deliver the best solutions available in the market. 

Contact our team today to learn more about our air filtration devices and other restoration and remediation products! 

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