Air pollutant concentration is not enough to convince everyday people to make an intervention

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Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, April 2022, Volume 5, #129

[Cite as: Fadeyi MO (2022). Air pollutant concentration is not enough to convince everyday people to make an intervention. Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, April 2022, Volume 5, #129.]

Fictional Case Story (Audio – available online)


People assumed that indoor air pollutants they were exposed to or could be exposed to would not harm them. The assumption drove their thinking, which drove the behaviour that led to the culture of not adopting the required intervention to reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants. The assumption became prevalent because there was no product to convince people that the resources they would sacrifice would lead to healthy indoor air and worth the usefulness they would gain from the indoor air. The development of a product to deliver the required solution led a man on a journey of discovery and life lessons about the importance of addressing the need instead of the want. The way the man’s journey taught him life lessons and revolutionised healthy indoor air value delivery, and improved public health is the subject of this short fiction story.

“Dr. Morgan Bash, welcome to the programme” said Helen Mark, the host of a popular YouTube programme called Environmental Consciousness with tens of millions of subscribers. Dr. Bash was the Executive Director of the Sustainable Environment Agency (SEA) – A government agency. “Thank you for having me. It is my pleasure to be here.” Dr. Bash responded politely. “I would like to start by asking you what SEA is doing to reduce the public health problem caused by poor attention to poor indoor air quality.” Helen asked. She asked the question because of a virus pandemic that raised the consciousness of the importance of IAQ to public health and how negligence for healthy indoor air over the years had contributed to the increase in the incidence of virus infections in indoor environments during the pandemic.

As Dr. Bash was about to answer the question, Helen interjected to promise that she would let him answer the question as long as possible before she asked another question. “Hehehe. Thank you!” Dr. Bash laughed and thanked Helen. “I actually have a lot to say about this question.” Dr. Bash said. “Please proceed, Dr.” Helen said, pointing her right palm, facing up, towards Dr. Bash. “We invited you here today to learn from you. I am sure the audience would want me to keep quiet and let you talk.” Helen said jokingly.

“The virus pandemic has raised a concern on how ventilation systems meant for the delivery of healthy indoor air are designed, constructed, and managed.” Dr. Bash said. “We provided a guidance note document to create awareness of the importance of ensuring effective ventilation delivery. We educated people against using low ventilation rates or no ventilation because of the need to save energy and cost, which do little to reduce indoor air pollutants concentrations. Such practice is usually a waste of energy and financial cost. The invested energy and financial cost to deliver ventilation might not achieve the required usefulness, i.e., the provision of healthy indoor air.” Dr. Bash shared.

“We emphasised that one way to maximise the benefit inherent in ventilation in the delivery of healthy indoor air is to use sensors to expose air quality problems in an indoor environment and identify the cause. The information from the sensors should be used to aid effective distribution and circulation of cleaned outdoor air use for ventilation, with prudent use of invested resources, to maximise the reduction of indoor air pollutants concentrations. In our guidance note document, we noted to industry professionals the importance of designing supply air diffusers and return or exhaust grills to ensure effective airflow movement to reduce the resident time of indoor air pollutants or ageing of indoor air.” Dr. Bash shared.

Dr. Bash said that SEA encouraged the importance of making an air handling unit or any system responsible for conditioning and cleaning the air supplied to the indoor environment to be resilient. “With resilience, SEA means the system should have the capability to effectively control its response to stress it experiences, stressors (indoor air pollutants and other environmental parameters) exposed to, and the sources of the stressors to maintain a suitable and reliable provision of healthy indoor air. ” Dr. Bash said.

“We advised that heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems should be designed, constructed, and managed to facilitate prudent use of energy and other invested resources to deliver the required usefulness in terms of quality, quantity, and safety associated with healthy indoor air. We also noted that the usefulness determinants should also include the comfort, convenience, and awareness provided to the users or consumers of the HVAC system.” Dr. Bash shared. ‘What could compromise the performance of the HVAC system?” Dr. Bash asked a question to guide his thought and delivery of his message. Notable ones are supply and exhaust fans, air ducts, dampers, coils, and filters.” Dr. Bash said.

“The guidance note document was written to encourage effective management (operation and maintenance) of these notable sub-systems for optimal performance. We noted that poor inspection and cleaning of supply and exhaust fans would compromise the fans’ ability to move and circulate air appropriately and appropriate supply and removal of the volume of indoor air. Comprise in the facility management practice will lower indoor air’s cleanliness or freshness quality.” Dr. Bash shared.

“Poorly managed air duct and dampers could lead to air leakages or blockage, increasing an energy penalty. We noted that gaps around air filters would lead to air bypass, thus lowering filtration efficiency and compromising the quality of the delivered air to an indoor environment.” Dr. Bash explained. “To reduce microbial growth resulting from poor sanitary HVAC systems, air leakages, and cracks in air ducts, pipes, and wall gaps, facility managers are advised to look out for potential building systems defects. We also advised that systems should be designed and constructed to limit the occurrence of defects that could facilitate microbial growth.” Dr. Bash shared.

“The maximisation of the sink effect of ventilation resulting from its dilution phenomenon to reduce indoor air pollutants concentrations is emphasised in the guidance note document”. Dr. Bash shared. Due to the virus pandemic, we advised that the outdoor air damper should be set to be 100% open throughout an operation of an air-conditioning system to maximise outdoor air supply for maximum dilution of the airborne virus particles. We advised that ventilation demand control sensors like CO2 sensor that increases outdoor air damper when occupancy increases should be deactivated to allow the uninterrupted outdoor air supply throughout the operation of an air-conditioning system irrespective of the occupancy condition.” Dr. Bash shared.

“The removal of used air from an indoor environment also aids the reduction of indoor air pollutants resident time. Thus, exhaust fans should be fully opened, especially those in places with inherent sources of air pollutants, e.g., toilets, kitchens, printing rooms, etc. We advised facility managers and building users to look out for openings that could allow exhausted pollutants to re-enter the indoor environment and ensure they are always closed when an exhaust fan is operating.” Dr. Bash shared.

“We encourage adjustment to an existing air-conditioning system that cannot deliver outdoor air for the required ventilation rate through the installation of supply and exhaust fans. We also suggested that the occupancy rate should be reduced where an air-conditioning system cannot provide adequate ventilation for healthy indoor air.” Dr. Bash shared.

“Purging of aged indoor air out of an indoor environment before occupancy to reduce the concentrations of indoor air pollutants occupants may be exposed to is another recommendation in the guidance note document. We also recommended that ventilation from an air-conditioning system be operated for a longer period before and after occupancy in a situation where an air-conditioned building does not have a purging capability.” Dr. Bash shared.

Dr. Bash said SEA discourages recirculation of indoor air or at least sets it to the barest minimum. “We advised that high-efficiency filters should be adopted. A high-efficiency filter can efficiently remove pollutants in recirculated and outdoor air. We advised that ultraviolent germicidal irradiation (UVGI) may be used to augment the filters for better air cleaning if operating conditions necessitate it and it is safe to use.

We discouraged the use of ionisers as evidence in the literature suggests they emit ozone, which is dangerous to human health. Ozone-initiated chemistry also generates harmful indoor air pollutants. For naturally ventilated buildings, we recommended the use of portable air cleaners with high-efficiency filters for cleaning indoor air and help enhance the benefit inherent in ventilation.” Dr. Bash shared.

“I am glad to share that our recommendations, which are based on strong scientific evidence, were very well accepted and adopted by industry professionals, building owners, facility managers, and building users.” Dr. Bash said. “Was there a reduction in indoor air pollutants concentrations in buildings where the recommendations are being adopted?” Helen asked. “Yes!” Dr. Bash said proudly.

“I must say that the ongoing virus pandemic situation is helping in making people take our recommendations for healthy indoor air seriously and adopt them. Before the pandemic, indoor air quality was not a popular topic among industry professionals, building owners, facility managers, and building users.” Dr. Bash said. The conversion between Dr. Bash and Helen continued with discussions on other sustainability initiatives by SEA before ending the programme.

Two years later, after the pandemic was over, the consciousness of healthy indoor air dropped significantly. The old practice of focusing more on energy savings at the expense of healthy indoor air became prevalent. People started to take their chances with indoor air quality. Dr. Bash and his team at SEA did not envisage this occurrence. They realised that the lessons from the virus pandemic experience that should have made people take healthy indoor air delivery seriously did not. Dr. Bash and his team sprang into action. They had consultations with scientists, professors, and industry leaders on how a reliable consciousness for healthy indoor air delivery could be achieved.

The experts argued that people would always assume that the indoor air they are exposed to will not harm them, especially if they believe that the resources they have to invest are higher than they can afford or are willing to sacrifice. They argued that people would always want to take their chances with the indoor air. They concurred that some actions would only be probably taken if the health impact reached a deadly or serious level.

Some experts also raised concern that the recommendations gear towards IAQ with little regard for energy consumption and financial implications, which will always be very important to people. The experts said that while some of the ventilation recommendations were necessary during the virus pandemic, the energy implication may not make them popular after the pandemic.

The experts said strategies or recommendations for the delivery of healthy indoor air should be balanced creatively with energy and other resources that have to be sacrificed. They said the usefulness of healthy indoor air and invested resources should be considered holistically. They said what is the point of suggesting a good strategy for achieving healthy indoor air people will not adopt it because they cannot afford the required resources or do not see the need to invest the resources.

“To create a solution that effectively solves the end user’s or consumer’s problem, considerable attention should be paid to the process the end-user or consumer must go through to use or consume the solution to solve the problem. People would think twice before sacrificing energy and other related financial costs, comfort, convenience, and knowledge.

They would think twice, especially if they cannot ascertain that the expected benefits from healthy indoor air, if delivered at all, will correspond to or more than the resources they have to invest.” One of the experts that raised the concern said. All the experts concurred that with no virus pandemic, people will always give preference to energy consumption in air-conditioned buildings at the determent of IAQ. Scientific evidence on how to achieve the balance was shared, and recommendations were made.

The experts also concurred that people’s assumption that indoor air pollutants will not harm them would drive people’s thinking that will drive their behaviour. They said the behaviour would drive the culture of not investing resources to adopt the required interventions to reduce poor indoor air exposure. The experts said such a culture would increase the social and economic burden caused by unhealthy buildings with poor indoor air on a country’s public health.

They argued that people, especially building owners, facility managers, and building users with little or no expertise or knowledge of indoor air quality, would want to know that their sacrifice would be worth it. Unfortunately, a solution to convince people, in real-time, to sacrifice resources for intervention was not available.

There was a consensus to develop a portable IAQ monitoring solution to provide awareness of indoor air pollutants concentrations in real-time. The IAQ monitoring solution should be portable enough for people to carry it along wherever they go and do their daily activities to make informed decisions and invest resources to achieve healthy indoor air. It was believed that by having awareness in real-time, people would see the need to intervene to reduce their exposure to indoor air pollutants.

SEA, headed by Dr. Bash, called for research proposals. Grant was awarded to the team the committee believed to have a better chance of developing an IAQ monitoring solution that is portable, comfortable and convenient to wear, and sophisticated enough to provide real-time concentrations of several indoor air pollutants. Three years later, a solution that meets the requirements of SEA was developed. There was a high news coverage for the developed portable IAQ monitoring solution. The solution was dubbed as a revolution change agent for healthy indoor air delivery. The market for the solution increased significantly.

Unfortunately, a few years later, it was evident to Dr. Bash and his team that the developed portable IAQ monitoring solution was not enough to convince everyday people, i.e., non-IAQ experts, to make intervention essential for reducing exposure to indoor air pollutants and the delivery of healthy indoor air. This realisation forced Dr. Bash to think about why the solution did not serve its purpose of convincing everyday people to intervene in healthy indoor air delivery.

After several sessions of serious thinking and reading of the literature on human psychology, Dr. Bash concluded that while the portable IAQ monitoring solution is a step in the right direction, it did not meet the goal. The goal is to convince people to intervene to reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants. Dr. Bash thought that real-time awareness resulting from objective data that health is about to be compromised or being compromised is what will convince people to intervene to reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants.

This line of thought led Dr. Bash to a question. “Why has a product that measures and projects the changes in human physiological and psychological vulnerability levels in real-time due to exposure to concentrations of an air pollutant or pollutants to determine and project human health risk levels yet to be developed?” He asked himself. He concluded that there must be some machines, methods, materials, measurements, and man-related difficulties preventing the creation of such a product. “Hmmm!” He sighed.

“I wish the reasons for the difficulties could be determined so that an appropriate solution can be developed to eliminate them so my wish can be a reality. Such a development will provide objective data to make it easier to convince everyday people when intervention is essential. At the end of the day, what people are interested in is not the concentrations of indoor air pollutants but the impact the indoor air pollutants would have on their health.” Dr. Bash said to himself.

Dr. Bash presented his idea to his team at SEA for consensus and advice. SEA later presented the idea to the Minister of Environment of the country to secure support and funding for a multi-disciplinary research grant call. A grant call was publicised for multi-disciplinary industry professionals, scientists, technology developers, and professors to submit a proposal for the development of a product that can effectively convince everyday people to make an intervention to reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants or improve indoor air quality.

The multi-disciplinary research team that won the grant award showed great potential in fulfilling the goal of SEA. The research team had reviewed the literature and industry practices and consulted with everyday people to determine with reasons the potential machines, methods, materials, measurements, and man-related factors hindering the development of a product that fulfills the set goal by SEA.

The winning team provided a convincing, compelling, and promising proposal to suggest that they could develop a product that is portable, comfortable, and convenient enough to be worn by people while doing their everyday activities. While having these qualities, the product is also sophisticated enough to monitor concentrations of several air pollutants and measure and project the changes in human physiological and psychological conditions in real-time due to exposures to air pollutants to determine and project health risk levels.

The team also demonstrated that the product could adjust for social and economic impact affecting humans and impacts of other indoor environmental quality determinants, like thermal, acoustic, light, and spatial conditions, on humans. Dr. Bash was particularly impressed with the detailed nature of the proposal submitted by the winning research team.

The multi-disciplinary research team developed and tested different versions of their developed product in the laboratory and real-life scenarios and improved to achieve a version they were happy enough to present to SEA. The whole process took three years. SEA and the government were happy with the product. However, before making it public or available in local and international markets, the SEA team, led by Dr. Bash, with the support from the government, decided to make the product freely available to residents of the country to gather more data. The intention was to collect data on the acceptance and effectiveness of the product in meeting the set goal and identify possible areas for improvement before making it available in local and international markets.

The final assessment of the product was completed within six months. The product was widely accepted and made minor improvements here and there to the product. The research work on the product was officially closed thereafter. The challenges of convincing people to intervene to reduce their exposure to indoor air pollutants and improve their IAQ condition became a thing of the past. The product also facilitated the practical and prudent investment of resources to deliver healthy indoor air. Social and economic status was not a constraint to the adoption of the product.

The already available technological advancement in the flexibility of air-conditioning systems to meet variation in individual IAQ and thermal condition needs was very helpful in adopting the product in commercial buildings. Facility managers found it easier to manage the variation in each building occupant’s determined and projected health risks due to exposure to indoor air pollutants.

While Dr. Bash led an organisation that made an incredible contribution to the world, he learnt a lot about the difference between developing a solution to serve human want and need. A solution that serves the need of people would have a better acceptance rate. Dr. Bash initially thought people would want to have a product that provides awareness of indoor air pollutants concentration in real-time and wherever the exposed person may be to convince them to intervene for IAQ improvement.

He learnt that he was supposed to focus on the need of people to develop a life-changing product people would accept. He learnt he had to develop a product that would provide real-time information on what people really care about and would not want to compromise, i.e., their health, to convince and motivate people to make an intervention for healthy indoor air delivery. His leadership revolutionised the practice of delivering healthy and energy-efficient indoor air. The developed IAQ product under his leadership benefited from technological advancements making air-conditioning systems to be intelligent. Intelligent air-conditioning systems also contributed to the prudent use of invested resources while maximising the usefulness delivered to the consumers of the systems.

Dr. Bash became an icon locally and internationally and won many scientific and leadership awards. Many of his team at SEA and researchers involved in the project were celebrated as healthy buildings and public health heroes because of the developed product’s impact on human health and building sustainability.

The product’s quality, practicality, and functionality improved over the years with advancements in technology sophistication. There was a significant improvement in the product’s ability to adjust for the potential impact of social, economic, and other indoor environmental quality conditions that could influence the change in human physiological and psychological vulnerability levels.

Two decades later, new generations of people could not believe how people lived in an indoor environment without such a product developed under the leadership of Dr. Bash. After the death of Dr. Bash at 87. The top school of public health in his country was named after him. A professorship position was also named after him. It was called Morgan Bash Professor of Healthy Buildings. The celebration of Dr. Bash’s work and legacy even after his death pleased his family and made them proud. THE END.

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