US Launches Clean Air in Buildings Challenge


In following the release of the Biden-Harris Administration’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, last week the Administration announced the launch of a new program to improve indoor air quality in buildings and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The program, dubbed the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge calls upon building owners and operators, schools, colleges and universities, and organizations of all kinds to assess their indoor air quality and make ventilation and air filtration improvements to help keep occupants safe.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “infectious diseases like COVID-19 can spread through the inhalation of airborne particles and aerosols. In addition to other layered prevention strategies like vaccination, actions to improve ventilation, filtration and other proven air cleaning strategies can reduce the risk of exposure to particles, aerosols, and other contaminants, and improve indoor air quality and the health of building occupants.”

It is reported that the EPA and the White House COVID-19 Response Team consulted with the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Energy and several other Federal agencies with roles in promoting healthy indoor air quality in buildings to develop the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge.

Improving Air Quality, Ventilation

Prior to the development of the air quality program, the Biden Administration and Congress made hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding available for public buildings, schools and other settings to improve indoor air quality through its American Rescue Plan. Specifically, the government provided $350 billion for state and local governments and $122 billion for schools that could be utilized for ventilation and filtration upgrades.

In a fact sheet issued by The White House, it is noted that the American Rescue Plan dollars can also be used for inspection, testing and maintenance of current ventilation systems; purchasing portable air filtration units, with HEPA air filters; purchasing MERV-13 (or higher) filters for HVAC system and air conditioners; purchasing fans; repairing windows and/or doors; servicing, upgrading or replacing HVAC systems consistent with industry standards; and more.

With the recent development of the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, the Administration plans to further advance indoor air quality in buildings by:

  • Supporting state, local and Tribal governments as well as school districts to make ventilation improvements and upgrades using American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds;
  • Building public awareness around ventilation and filtration improvements to reduce disease spread in buildings;
  • Highlighting ctions taken by buildings to achieve clean, healthy air quality through a recognition program similar to LEED, Fitwel and WELL; and
  • Catalyzing science and technology innovation to reduce indoor disease transmission.

These initiatives are further supported by the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. Key actions in this program include:

  • Create a clean indoor air action plan;
  • Optimize fresh air ventilation;
  • Enhance air filtration and cleaning; and
  • Conduct community engagement, communication and education.

As part of the new Clean Air in Buildings Challenge initiative, the EPA published a best practice guide for improving indoor air quality and reducing the risk of spreading dangerous airborne particles and other contaminants indoors.

“Protecting our public health means improving our indoor air quality. Today, EPA is following through on President Biden’s plan to move our nation forward in a healthy, sustainable way as we fight COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, building managers and facility staff have been on the frontlines implementing approaches to protect and improve indoor air quality to reduce risks and keep their occupants safe and healthy, and we are so grateful for their efforts,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge is an important part of helping us all to breathe easier.”

This guide contains a set of clear recommendations organized into four groups:

  • Create a clean indoor air action plan that assesses indoor air quality, plans for upgrades and improvements, and includes HVAC inspections and maintenance;
  • Optimize fresh air ventilation by bringing in and circulating clean outdoor air indoors;
  • Enhance air filtration and cleaning using the central HVAC system and in-room air cleaning devices; and
  • Engage the building community by communicating with building occupants to increase awareness, commitment, and participation.

The EPA notes that while recommended actions cannot eliminate all air quality risks, they will reduce them. The Agency went on to further note that although the options and best practices are set out as a guide, combinations of these efforts will vary by space and location of each setting seeking to improve air quality.

Additional considerations when choosing what options might best serve a building are dependent on public health guidance, number of individuals in the building, activities that occur in the building, outdoor air quality, climate, weather conditions and HVAC equipment, among other factors.

The EPA reports that its guide will be made available in Spanish, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Arabic and Russian.


Tagged categories: Air barriers; Air pollution control; Air quality; Building operations; Building owners; COVID-19; Good Technical Practice; Government; Hazardous air pollutants; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Indoor air quality; Maintenance + Renovation; NA; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Public Buildings; Rehabilitation/Repair; Safety; Schools; Ventilation

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