March 9, 2023 / Larry Sloan

My Trip to the White House

COVID-19 has clarified for many what OEHS professionals have long understood—that addressing indoor air quality (IAQ) is vitally important in preventing the spread of infectious disease. If the pandemic has a silver lining, it is that the benefits of IAQ, ventilation, and filtration are more widely known, and momentum is building for making lasting improvements in many buildings across the United States.

Evidence of this momentum can be found in concrete government actions, particularly at the federal level. Last March, the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan acknowledged that improvements to ventilation systems can maximize health outcomes, while the EPA Clean Air in Buildings Challenge called on building owners and operators, schools, and universities to assess indoor air quality and improve ventilation. Then, in December, the White House announced its commitment to achieving cleaner indoor air across the U.S. The plan calls for establishing federal buildings as “exemplar(s) of innovation, implementation, and standards for indoor air quality”; the continued funding of research into airborne disease transmission; new guidance and funding for improving ventilation and filtration, particularly in schools; and incentivizing IAQ improvements in residential buildings.

These efforts were the focus of a meeting held at the White House in February that brought together representatives from a select group of organizations committed to improving IAQ and ventilation. I attended on behalf of AIHA. Other attendees represented ASHRAE, the American Institute of Architects, and the Integrated Bioscience and Built Environment Consortium. Harvard professor and author Joe Allen, who has published extensively on IAQ and the pandemic, was there, as was Gigi Kwik Gronvall, an expert in immunology from Johns Hopkins. Three White House staff also attended, including COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish K. Jha.

Over the course of the one-hour meeting, we discussed the government’s current efforts and considered new avenues to explore. Dr. Jha suggested that the government could get more traction by building an economic argument about the return on investment provided by IAQ improvements, not only the cost savings from improved physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being, but also the beneficial effect of good IAQ on children’s ability to learn. Much of the ensuing conversation focused on schools. The group discussed ways that parents and other stakeholders could influence school boards to increase investment in school buildings. I suggested that a national database be created to keep tabs on school infrastructure, which doesn’t exist at the local level. Everyone agreed that schools need help navigating the federal funding system, and concerns were raised that schools wouldn’t spend the funds in the required time period. The White House has held several webinars to educate schools about federal funding, but many school administrators apparently don’t understand the urgency of investing in IAQ. It may not help matters that so many agencies, including EPA, CDC, NIOSH, and the Department of Energy, play some role in addressing IAQ in schools. White House staff acknowledged that better coordination among agencies is needed.

Other topics included the perceived conflict between IAQ improvements and efforts to address climate change—for example, that improved ventilation will result in greater carbon emissions. A greater effort is needed to explain to the public that IAQ improvements can be achieved without harming the climate. There was also some discussion of possibly retiring the term IAQ in favor of “indoor environmental quality,” which we felt is more holistic and may resonate better. We considered the government’s role in informing the public about which IAQ technologies are effective, and which are not. While ASHRAE’s forthcoming IAQ pathogen mitigation standard is a welcome development, it will take time to integrate it into construction codes on a state-by-state basis. Finally, we recognized that IAQ is a multi-stakeholder issue that affects many professions beyond the HVAC engineers, OEHS professionals, and architects represented at the meeting. To make real progress, it is necessary to include building owners and managers, facilities managers, and healthcare providers.

I anticipate ongoing dialogue with the White House and other stakeholders, and I’m pleased that AIHA continues to be involved in these discussions.

Larry Sloan

Larry Sloan is AIHA’s CEO.


precedent for title, Indoor Environmental Quality

from 1993 to 2001, ABIH offered a subspeciality exam titled Indoor Environmental Quality which included a great deal of IAQ but not exclusively. I'm unsure how many CIHs earned that along with me and a colleague from University of Texas but not a large number. Before its time I guess.

By Lawrence Whitehead, PhD, CIH. FAIHA on March 10, 2023 10:57am
Nice Work!

Thank you Larry! So glad that IAQ is getting the necessary attention!

By Dina Siegel on March 9, 2023 3:29pm

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