Top 4 Expert Strategies for Indoor Air Quality in Aged Care

It is our duty and responsibility to give every Australian the care they need in their later years. Now, facing half of Coronavirus-related deaths in Queensland within Aged Care ¹ we must ensure we are taking all possible measures to protect older Australians. Here's our top strategies to provide safe indoor air for Aged Care facilities.

 

“The air we breathe has a considerable impact on health, wellbeing and productivity. Older adults, people with immunocompromised, cardiovascular or respiratory health conditions are especially vulnerable to poor air quality.” – David Muldoon, Indoor Air Quality Expert

 

Our valued aged people need protection

Because most of the elderly spend a majority of their time indoors, our responsibility to ensure they are not unnecessarily exposed to indoor pollutants is crucial. The current COVID-19 pandemic is still having a direct impact on Aged Care facilities with a high proportion of fatalities, it’s the responsibility of administrators to do everything within their control to minimise the risk of infection within facilities. Controlling Indoor Air Quality is one of the most important ways to prevent the transmission of disease. An HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) producing clean, safe air will remove germs, viruses, droplets, and other infections, protecting the elderly and healthcare workers, making aged care facilities a safe place for all.

 

“Infection control should be a central feature of care for aged care providers." – Royal Commission

 

We’ve seen from the Royal Commission report ² that more attention needs to be given to hygiene in Aged Care. It is now the responsibility of administrators to ensure that they have minimised the risk of infection. Additional sanitised air in indoor areas is the number one safeguard to virus protection.

Current Government requirements centre around social distancing and hygiene. What cannot be overlooked is the fact that Australians spend up to 90% of their time indoors, more so for the elderly, often without adequate clean air.  Indoors, air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels ³, so it goes without saying that having clean air indoors is crucial for the health of the population, in particular our vulnerable groups, the elderly and our children. Aged Care facilities require heating and cooling, but the outside air component is often neglected, and the opening of windows is not used as this causes the comfort conditions to be compromised. Where Outside air is absent, community use air is recirculated, along with all the health allergies that exist. Outside Air requirements are outlined by the Building Code of Australia and documented in the Australian Standard AS 1668 Part 2. This standard requires the introduction of Outside air into Bedrooms/Living rooms to be 10 -12 l/sec per person. To maintain proper air circulation the air change rate should be at least 6-8 air-changes per hour in the room so that adequate air movement is maintained. 

Outside air is not always fresh or sterile air though, bringing in more outside air is good for reducing the risk of viral infection through air recirculation, but it can also introduce pollen, dust and mould into the occupied space if not filtered adequately. These all possess allergens, which can also have an adverse effect of health, especially for someone that is hypoallergenic.

 

So let's break-down some of the best methods to improve your air quality, what they are, how they work and which works best:

 

1. FILTRATION 

All heating or air conditioning units should contain filters. Filters installed in most units only remove dirt and dust which are the large particles in the air leaving the small particles to recirculate. They are generally designed and installed to protect the air conditioner, not to protect the occupants. HEPA filters can be installed to air conditioning systems but add static pressure to the system and will increase the running costs. High efficiency filters can remove pollen and smaller particles but will still not remove virus particles and rely on regular maintenance which is often neglected. 

 

2. UVC AIR PURIFICATION

Germicidal lights are used in specific applications to kill pathogens like bacteria and viruses. UV-C lights alter the pathogen DNA, destroying their ability to multiply. Because of its pathogen fighting ability UV-C is believed to have the ability to stop viruses from spreading. UV-C light is extensively used in hospitals, clean rooms, medical labs, schools, and aged care centres. UV-C lights can be installed in the ductwork of the air conditioning system or in a small housing which consists of a fan, UVC light and filters. These unit are easily mounted, run off single phase power and are suitable up to 30-40 occupants per room.

 

3. TESTING

One strategy to ensure safe indoor air quality is to carry out regular testing in the form of tape-lifts, swabs, air-cell sampling at key areas within the HVAC systems, the samples are then cultured by an accredited laboratory for bacteria, viruses and mould.

Real-time air testing for Temperature, Humidity, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) & Carbon Monoxide (CO) as well as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), Sulphur Dioxide, Asbestos Fibres, Suspended Particles or other specified contaminants.

 

4. AIR PURIFERS

An air purifier like Aura Air is a standalone, pure-air producer for homes or businesses, which also provides real-time Air Quality data via an App or online Control Panel.

Suitable for use in residential or commercial spaces. Aura Air units can be deployed quickly with fast installation, independent of HVAC systems, can be used in reception areas, waiting rooms, lounges and bedrooms. It captures and kills 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, mould and VOCs so your residents can breathe sanitised air within minutes of setup.  Each unit is designed to exchange air 2.5 times per hour within a 55m2 area.

The main difference between UV-C and filtration is that one sterilises the air and one cleans it.

Good filtration can clean a lot of particles out of the air including pollens and dust particulates, but may miss smaller particles such as viruses. Filtration may also add static pressure to your AC system which will increase its running costs. So stand alone filtration systems such as the Aura Air may be preferable.

UV-C sterilises the air, this will deactivate any mould, bacteria and viral spores that pass through it, rendering them ineffective and preventing the spores from infecting or colonising. UV-C installed in Air Conditioning systems will keep the coil clean and the system running more efficiently year-round.

However, UV-C will not remove all the contaminants from the air and dead mould spores can be just as adverse to your health as living ones.

“To ensure safe, healthy indoor air we recommend a regular cleaning schedule inline with AS3666, UVC installation and Air Quality Testing” – David Muldoon, Indoor Air Quality Expert

 

The Best Solution:

  • A combination of filtration, UV-C and regular testing and cleaning is your best defence against polluted and contaminated air.
  • UV-C can keep your AC system running efficiently and sterilise any living spores or microbes that pass through it.
  • A stand-alone filtration unit, such as the Aura Air, will catch any airborne particulate reducing the occupants exposure to potential allergens, this is especially beneficial when adhering to the Australian Standard for outside air.
  • On top of this a yearly inspection from a qualified Air Quality Expert will make sure that there is no microbial growth present in the areas of the AC system that are not treated by UV-C light, such as the flexible ducts and grilles.

 

For more information on IAQ in Aged Care visit https://cleanairaust.com.au/aged-care/ or contact a Clean-Air expert like David.

Thank you to David Muldoon for his contribution to this article.

References

¹https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/masks-off-queensland-to-ease-restrictions-from-next-friday-20220222-p59yjx.html ²https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-03/final-report-volume-1_0.pdf ³https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/indoor-air-quality