After a summer of smoky skies, indoor air quality needs to be addressed



The summer of 2023, currently believed to be the hottest on record, is prompting U.S. lawmakers and policymakers across the political spectrum to make sure that homes, offices, and other buildings across the country are equipped to deal with extreme weather. It should prompt you to take action to ensure that you are better equipped to:

In particular, the high temperatures and unusually dry conditions that caused smoke from the Canadian wildfires to fall across large swaths of the United States, forcing people indoors, necessitated the expansion of building codes to reflect the new realities faced. This should serve as a convincing signal that there is. By millions of Americans.

Building codes are local regulations that guide the design, construction, and renovation of commercial buildings, residences, and structures in a particular jurisdiction. Over the past few years, regional codes have been upgraded in response to increasingly severe hurricanes and rising sea levels. This summer also demonstrated the need for updates to help reduce poor air quality from wildfire smoke entering indoors.

“Record temperatures for the summer of 2023 are not just numbers; they have dire real-world consequences,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Those impacts include air quality warnings that have been issued all over the place this summer. At one point in late June, more than 120 million people, about a third of the U.S. population, were under air pollution warnings due to wildfires. The warning affected more than a dozen states from the East Coast to the Midwest and some of the nation’s largest cities, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, the fires and poor air quality persisted by the end of the summer. About 300 wildfires are still burning out of control across Canada, and more than 18 million hectares have been burned this year alone, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

However, going indoors does not guarantee safety from pollutants. Buildings may have better air quality than outdoors, but over time exposure to pollutants coming in from the outside can actually be much worse.

“We breathe more air indoors,” says Joseph Allen, associate professor and director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard School of Public Health. “But because 90 percent of the breath you breathe takes place indoors, the total dose of outdoor air pollution can be five times higher than what you breathe indoors, which at first glance seems very wrong. .”

Except it’s not. And it’s very unhealthy.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says that short- and long-term exposure to indoor air pollution “can cause a variety of health problems, including respiratory disease, heart disease, cognitive impairment, and cancer.” I am reporting. Perhaps just as important, and as Allen’s research reveals, indoor air quality can have a major impact on our ability to learn, work, and heal, so employers, schools, health care providers, and facilities Managers need to assess the quality and performance of buildings.

The Biden administration is taking a step forward in an effort begun last year to encourage states and local governments to “adopt the most up-to-date, current building codes and standards to help communities recover from hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and other increasingly extreme weather events.” It can increase your power.” to climate change. ”

But since building codes are a local issue, the White House will likely require more funding to account for wildfire pollutants in buildings, perhaps through mechanisms like the recently announced $400 million grant to states and territories. efforts should be made to encourage the adoption of better air quality guidelines for Enforcement of building energy standards.

Scientific American magazine recently argued that “state and local governments must prioritize updating home building codes to meet minimum safety standards as climate change amplifies risks.” Ta.

Indoor safety issues are so prevalent that they should not be prioritized. Given that smoke from wildfires is likely to be a problem for years to come, air quality in offices, schools, apartments, and homes—the buildings where most Americans spend most of their lives—is likely to be a problem for years to come. Further efforts are needed to improve quality.

Mark A. Hershey is a senior vice president at Armstrong World Industries and a member of the board of directors of the National Building Museum.

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