Kaatscast: the Catskills' premier podcast!
Dec. 7, 2021

On Air: CO2 and Indoor Air Quality

On Air: CO2 and Indoor Air Quality

Feeling sleepy? CO2 could be the culprit. For centuries, the Catskills have offered a respite from city life, and a bit of fresh air. But indoor air quality can be bad no matter where you live. Fortunately, air quality can be measured, and steps taken to get that indoor Catskills air more in line with outdoor Catskills air, for health and wellness. For more, we connected with IAQ expert Ljeta Putāne and local citizen scientist Liz Potter.  Thanks to our sponsors: The Mountain Eagle, and the Catskill Mts. Scenic byway. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio.

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Welcome to Kaatscast, the bi weekly podcast featuring history interviews, arts and culture, sustainability, and the outdoors in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley. For centuries, the Catskills have offered a respite from city life, and a bit of fresh air. But indoor air quality can be bad no matter where you live. Fortunately, air quality can be measured and steps taken to get that indoor Catskills air more in line with outdoor Catskills air for health and wellness. For more, we connected with someone who lives and breathes indoor air quality. Honestly, I'm not sure how to pronounce your name. So could you start off just by introducing yourself? Absolutely. So my name is Ljeta. So it's L J E T A, but in Latvian J sounds like a Y so that's why you get Ljeta. Ljeta Putãne is Head of Marketing at Latvia's S.A.F Technica. And what we do, we're experts in wireless transmission. And one of our product lines, specifically Aironet, is now also focusing on IOTs, and in manufacturing, designing and developing different sensors. We'll talk about Aironet In a moment, and why it's taking off here in the US. But first, what is IOT? IOT is Internet of Things. So so what we do is we do that sensor bit, which kind of monitors and tracks the environment, and then you can hook on to different devices, and then everything can be connected and you can like know what's happening around you. One area that we're focusing in is indoor air quality, which is like by far kind of our largest area of focus. And then we also do actually horticulture, and we do livestock and poultry farms and also exploring different other industrial areas. But I think you probably would be most interested in the bit that we do in the indoor air quality specifically, and that's where our only consumer product or the only b2c product comes from, which is Aironet Four, which has been also quite popular recently. Humans exhale co2 or carbon dioxide at a concentration of 40,000 parts per million. The natural co2 level outdoors is about 420 and rising due to climate change, but that's another podcast. Indoors, co2 can be higher because all of that breath can stagnate. Aironet Four is a sensor about the size of an Altoids tin that displays real time data on co2 in parts per million. Co2 is a proxy for all the other stuff humans exhale, including viruses like COVID 19. So the more co2 in the air, the higher the likelihood of inhaling air that was recently exhaled by you or someone else. In light of the pandemic, the CDC recommends indoor co2 levels of 800 parts per million or lower. Co2 isn't carrying the virus, but as co2 accumulates in the air, so can viral aerosols. When a person exhales, you not only exhale the virus but you also exhale co2. So if you measured the co2, that can tell you what is the risk that the air that I'm breathing in the room has been already examined by someone else. And so if you think about it, if someone else has COVID, and I'm breathing air that is already quite like high in co2 levels, which means many people have already exhale this air, the chances are that you might get COVID. On average, an American would spend 90% of his or her day indoors, and so if 90% of the time you're spending indoors, and now especially with Corona, most of that time is your house; your house has become the place where you eat, you sleep, and you also work. So I think this is an excellent time when to look at your home from a completely different perspective, in a way and also try to think about is my home contributing to my health. And so indoor air quality is obviously one bit of it. It's one part of the story in this entire jigsaw. Because Corona is airborne that has also drawn attention to air quality. In general, not only because it is, you know, you can catch it by breathing and someone's else virus, but because it's also just making sure that this topic is now on everyone's minds really. Even in non pandemic times, increased levels of co2 aren't working in anyone's favor. When the co2 levels reach 1000 ppm, that means that your cognitive abilities dropped by 15.15%. And when it reaches 1400, it drops by 50%. If I were to put this into perspective, I'm sitting now in a hotel room, a relatively small hotel room, if I don't open the windows or improve the ventilation in here, I'll easily easily like in half an hour's time reach 1000, and more. So if you think about it, it's actually by looking at co2 levels, you're also looking at like, Hey, am I losing focus? Am I starting to feel drowsy? Am I feeling tired? And also, can I can I actually work productively, right, which is an important issue for many of us. This is where co2 levels can can be very helpful to track, we've had Aironet Four in a car, you should see what happens if actually, if you don't open the windows, it goes up really fast. And you know, when sometimes you drive for like an hour or two, and you're like, 'Oh, I'm getting really tired.' You know what you should check the co2 level, because it might just be the case that it's not just because you've been driving for a long time, but because your co2 level is way off. Ljeta sent us one of their Aironet Four co2 meters, and I had it on my desk during this interview. Ever since I got this Aironet Four, it's been freaking me out. So the levels in my office. The levels in my office right now were 1671. Yeah so, okay, so the way how to think about this is that 1000, which it turns orange, in your Aironet Four, and 1400, when it turns red. So the way how do you think about it, if it's green, it's cool. If it's orange, you should be doing something about it. If it's red, you should definitely do something about it. So I mean, if it's going beyond 1400, that should be a definitely like like an alarm saying 'Brett, you should be doing something now. So, you should be either opening the window, you should be like, I don't know, increasing your ventilation.' If you have A/C, for instance that has the fresh air mode, you should be turning that on. Or you know what, just go to a different room, because this room is not helping Brett perform at the moment for sure. Great; and how many years I've been working in this room not realizing how poor the air quality is. But that's the cool thing, right? Once you actually start tracking it, you're starting to like think, 'Oh, interesting, I would have never known this.' And I think the beauty of tech and 21st century is that gives us visibility of things that we previously just did not know. We kind of maybe sometimes felt it, you know, as the example that I just told you when you're driving for a longer time, you were just associated with the I get generally tired this and that. But it's actually once you start realizing the cause and effect of these things. It's It's incredible because it gives you a little bit more control of what you can do to make your life better. Setting the co2 meter in my vocal booth revealed even higher numbers; in the 2500 range. This little booth is designed to keep sound out of it, and apparently also fresh air. I think this explains my hankering for an afternoon nap. My own personal space is one thing, but air quality in shared spaces can cause more than just mental fatigue. And so we sent the Aironet Four off with our production intern Keith to test some communal spaces in and around the campus of SUNY New Paltz. Here are some numbers. A computer lab with a few people; co2 parts per million in the five hundreds. Same lab at the end of a full class in the high six hundreds; still very good. A smaller classroom around 500 at the beginning of class and rising to 800 by the end of it. Smaller spaces on campus registered higher but for the most part, classroom ventilation was good. A restaurant in town, however, popped the meter up to 1500. That's a lot of pre breathed air. And at a campus drag show later in the evening, a whopping 2500 parts per million. Thanks to high vaccination rates on campus the only thing Keith brought home from the show were fond memories. At home Keith's numbers ranged from about 600 to 1100, depending on the number of people inside. Ljeta Putãne travels with her Aironet Four, so I asked about some of the higher readings and her experience. Some of the higher numbers so one is definitely a car. If you closed the windows in a car - because a car is a small, enclosed space - if you don't have the proper like ventilation coming in from outside or the windows open that's going to be high very fast. We've actually seen in some of the cases, you know what in, even in kindergartens in the sleeping areas, unless they open the windows, they've been like 4000 and higher. You know what I've been trying to avoid places with many people, especially crowded places. But I think if I were to go to one, I would see something that I wouldn't feel comfortable with at all. And I think like a funny experiment we did in Latvia, was in public transferred, we have these new trams, they're very fancy, right? And then we tried to like the shittiest, like that worst kind of like old tram somewhere that we found. And those were the best, you know why? Because they're not properly sealed. They have like many older cracks, and this and that, and actually, like just fresh air gets in and out so much better. And if I look also, at some of the new kind of like houses and flats, you have these super sealed windows, this and that. And in the UK, actually, people get a lot of the problems around mode, there's not enough ventilation also to control that. So some of those older windows are sometimes really good, because they do the natural job of what you should be kind of doing. In a moment, a local perspective on indoor air quality from the Phoenicia Library's Director Liz Potter. But first, a word from our sponsors. Kaatscast is sponsored by the Mountain Eagle, covering Delaware, Greene, and Schoharie counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham Weekly, Schoharie News, and Catskills Chronicle. For more information, call 518-763-6854 or email mountaineaglenews@gmail.com. And by the 52 mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, following New York State Route 28, through the heart of the central Catskills. For maps, itineraries, and links to area restaurants, shops, and accommodations, visit sceniccatskills.com. A while back we spoke with Catskills librarian Liz Potter, about the ultra efficient Phoenicia Library. It's the first passive house constructed library in the country, meaning it's air tight. Here's what she had to say about it. Our building has a foot wide exterior full of different forms of insulation; it's like putting on a really warm coat. So you don't have to use much heat to keep it warm in the winter. The other feature is that it's 100% air tight, if you can imagine that. That's actually measured by a blower door test, and when we measured this building at the completion of the project, we were able to detect that the total leakage for the entire building, if you can imagine it was the size of one quarter. As we now know from my soundproof vocal booth, air tight can be a recipe for abundant co2. But the Phoenicia Library keeps its staff and patrons supplied with fresh outdoor air. Liz explained by phone how this works, and how the pandemic has led to further modifications. When you have a passive house building, which is completely airtight, there's literally no unintended leakage, you have to have an air exchange unit so that you're not getting a buildup of stale air, infectious air or sort of mold and mildew and stuff like that. So we have that, as opposed to opening a window, which doesn't have this sharing of the cooling or the heating that you desire. It's very fuel efficient, it doesn't, you're not throwing your money out the window. So it's very good in a way for the situation because you're you constantly have fresh air. The only issue is for this circumstance, I don't think that the amount of fresh air coming in is adequate. If you're trying to defeat viral aerosols in the building, you need more air coming in. How do you meter the air quality there? Well, you can either wait till people get sick in the building and say, 'Well, we don't have good air quality' or you can measure it. It's actually quite difficult even for scientists to do that. So what people do is they found a proxy, which is they measure co2, so that's essentially measuring how used is the air; like how much exhalation from the humans in the building is accumulating? And that will give you kind of an estimation of how impure the air is. You can kind of go to Lowe's and get you know, a cheapo co2 meter, but they're really not so great. And there's kind of one affordable co2 meter called Aironet Four that's recommended by most of the kind of indoor air quality scientists who are working on the pandemic, so that's what we bought, and we put it at the front desk, and it's facing towards the staff. So they can read it, and we like to keep it between 600 and 800. And if we see it, you know, going over 800, then we know we have to either ask people to leave or, you know, open the windows really wide. But to be honest, that is very rare, because because of all these measures that we have in place. Have you tested the meter and other spaces like your own home for a comparison? Yes, I was surprised how a closed room sitting there working, how quickly it rises, it can go over 1000 very quickly. So now in my house, I actually crack all the windows that we're currently in the room of. So we're pretty careful about that. And we also have some portable HEPA filter machines, especially around my mom who's 91. So we want to make sure she's breathing clean air. Cold air, though. It's cold, and it's a waste of energy. It's it's really, but Don, my husband does not not like that new feature of me being laid indoor air quality fan. We also bought one for personal use, and I gave it to Don, who is a high school teacher. So, you know, arguably, he's in one of the most potentially infectious places in the community; a high school classroom for seven hours a day. He's 62, and so just by approach of age, even though he's vaccinated, he is more vulnerable. So we want to keep him safe. He has been using it every day, and he watches it. And he keeps three windows open. And he's got a chemistry vent that pulls air out. And then he's got a HEPA filter going. And he's been able to keep it even with 20-25 kids in the room in the 600 range. And he said when it when it gets higher, he'll open the windows wider. But interestingly, supposedly, in the winter, you don't need as wide a window opening. So you don't need six inches necessarily per window that you open; cut that down by half, because the rate of flow from the cold outside to the much warmer inside is much faster because of the greater temperature differential between the outside and the inside. So it doesn't have to be as completely wide open. The open window policy in Don's chemistry class turns out to be a good one. Ljeta explains. Some parents are sometimes sending us print screens or from their apps and asking, like, what's happening here or this and that. And what you can technically see is that often at the beginning of the class, it's fine, then it goes up, up up and towards the end of the class, it gets really high, like sometimes you're at 2000, even higher. And then it's obvious that there has been a break and it like drops, then it goes up and then it drops. And it just shows you that how does it accumulate over time unless you actually take action. Classrooms should definitely just keep the window open when possible. Actually, there's an interesting story of how Aironet started. The way how it started is that the CEO's stepdaughter used to pass out in the classroom, not like literally, but you know, like when you're like finding it really hard to keep your eyes open. And they're like taking her to the doctors and there's nothing wrong. And then one doctor said, 'Have you ever like tried maybe looking at the co2 levels in the classroom?, and at that time, obviously, there was no Aironet and they were trying to figure out how to do it. Long story short, that is how Aironet came about. Schools, you need to be thinking that; the kids are like falling asleep and not able to concentrate. It's not because you're boring, and it's not because the teachers are doing a bad job, but it's just because the co2 levels in the classroom are super high. Let's imagine a world where we don't have the pandemic to worry about, again. There's still a lot of value in that fresh circulated air in terms of creating an environment that is invigorating and you're not sleepy. And so there's other things that too much co2 in the air leads to not just as a proxy for a virus. Exactly; what you've created is a building that's not a sleeping building every day where the workers fade out at two in the afternoon and and, you know, precision work or is difficult. If you look at schools, making sure that co2 buildup is mitigated students performances on testing, and so on is much, much better. Nobody wants to be hampered by, you know, feeling exhausted, and a lot of buildings are just built in the dark ages and have no concern for this at all. So ideally, we would have this as part of the building code. Do you have any suggestions for steps people can take in the community for fresh and healthy air in their own indoor spaces? I would recommend the following. When gathering with anyone outside your household, or if anyone is at risk in your household, I would crack two windows in each room where you're gathering, you're creating a cross draft, and it's really efficient at bringing in fresh air. And the second thing I would say is buy yourself a single quality, portable HEPA filter machine. Get one that's big enough for your biggest room and make sure when you use it, put it on high. It's gonna be a little harder to hear each other. But it's really great at pulling out infected air. Yeah, so it can be very simple. Very simple and, you know, I don't want to say free because you're you are throwing heat out the window. Well, thank you very much, Liz. I appreciate it. It's so nice to talk to somebody else who cares about indoor air quality. Anyway, thank thank you for asking these questions. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio, where we now have a window slightly cracked, even in the winter. Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found for free and automatic delivery every two weeks. Thanks again to our local sponsors and to you our listeners for your contributions to the show. If you'd like to contribute just click Support at kaatscast.com. Thanks also to Keith Kortright, Ljeta Putãne, Liz Potter, and Aironet. Until next time, I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai / JL