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Methods for a safer office reopening—
Part 1: indoor air quality, odors, and bacteria

by Tommy Underhill
June 17, 2021

While reading the newspaper this morning, I came across a NY Times article, How to Reopen Offices Safely, that refocused my thoughts on a topic that has been on my mind for the past year: our return to the office. I’m not think of a return to office gossip and politics, but rather indoor air quality, the possibility of Legionnaire’s disease, rodents, cockroaches, and (of course!) the eventual resurgence of bed bugs.

This is part one of a four-part series on reopening the office and will focus on odors and bacteria. Next up will be eliminating rodent-borne dangers, cockroaches, and, finally, bed bugs.

Emily Anthes writes,

For the last 15 months, many American offices sat essentially empty. Conference rooms and cubicles went unused, elevators uncalled, files untouched. Whiteboards became time capsules. Succulents had to fend for themselves. But over the coming weeks, many of these workplaces will creak slowly back to life. By September, roughly half of Manhattan’s one million office workers are likely to return to their desks, at least part time, according to a recent survey by the Partnership for New York City.

Unlike the old adage of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, I foresee the return to the office to be an event not limited to Manhattan; this return will become a wave of activity that overtakes the entire country. Every office that has been closed for several months will harbor an environment that has effectively been closed off to the outside world for an extended period of time. Unexpected bacteria will have grown in the stale environment. Any food waste will have attracted hungry cockroaches, and possibly rodents. Any bed bugs that were in the building will still be there.

Building water quality

Although Covid-19 is the headline health concern, long-term building closures can present risks of their own. Plumbing systems that sit unused, for instance, can be colonized by Legionella pneumophila, bacteria that can cause a type of pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease.

I’m going to assume that a building that hasn’t been occupied for a year has not had water flowing through the pipes. Legionella and other pathogens may have grown in the water system. Legionnaire’s disease is a water-borne pathogen. According to the CDC, it is fatal to 10% of those who contract it. It’s beyond the scope of our company to suggest how to treat a building’s water supply— we want to bring the possibility to your attention and make it a subject of further research.

Indoor air quality

Most of us have experienced the musty aroma of stale air. The stale smell comes from the bacteria-rich environment within the structure. Most of these bacteria are not deadly; in fact, in a “normal” building, these bacteria are kept in check by air circulation, filtration, and exchange with fresh air.

Experts warn against installing air-cleaning devices or adding chemical disinfectants to the air. And in most ordinary workplaces, wiping down one’s desk with bleach is likely to do more harm than good. While ventilation and filtration are crucial, employers and building managers should stay away from foggers, fumigators, ionizers, ozone generators or other “air cleaning” devices that promise to neutralize the coronavirus by adding chemical disinfectants to the air. “These are all really terrible ideas of things to do to indoor air,” said Delphine Farmer, an atmospheric chemist at Colorado State University.

When remediating the building air prior to a full return to the office, I don’t recommend covering up the smell with a perfumy “air freshener”. Yes: the air may immediately smell better. No: most air fresheners don’t kill the odor-causing bacteria. Go directly to the source and eliminate the microbes.

A simple first step for a short-term odor improvement is to air out the building. When the first person returns to the office, open up as many doors and windows that will open. Bring in fans to exhaust the stale air and force in fresh air.

Exchanging the air is not enough for a lasting improvement. After a building is closed for an extended period of time, the bacteria will be everywhere: on hard surfaces, walls, floors, and the ceiling, in and under the carpets, on and in upholstered furniture, under and behind desks, in filing cabinets, drawers, and cupboards, on plates, glasses, cups, and silverware, in air ducts, and in the air filters. It’s an extensive list of places, surfaces, nooks, and crannies to clean and disinfect.

There is a one-step solution to improving indoor air quality and killing all the odor-causing bacteria found within any structure. It’s even effective enough to eliminate the nauseating smell of a dead body.

That solution is heat.

Heat gets everywhere, in just one treatment

Unlike surfactant sprays like Lysol or Clorox which are only effective when it comes in physical contact with bacteria, heat penetrates every object, surface, and item within the heating area. The likelihood of eliminating a significant percentage of the bacterial population in an office is limited to the depth the spray can penetrate. Even a very thorough spraying or fogging of Lysol will not eliminate odoriferous bacteria living in a drawer of file folders and paper documents in a room full of filing cabinets or penetrate deep enough into carpet to eliminate the source of odors.

Heat gets under and behind the refrigerator and throughout all the cabinetry in the breakroom— including the dishes and cutlery. Heat gets to all the surfaces and nooks and crannies in the bathrooms. Heat penetrates all the upholstered furniture.

Sean P. Abbott, Ph.D. is the analytical director and president of Natural Link Mold Lab, which specializes in contaminated indoor environments. He chairs the Basic Science Committee for the Indoor Environmental Institute and is a director for a local chapter of the American Indoor Air Quality Council. Dr. Abbott has tested samples and certified that GreenTech Heat equipment can disinfect everything within the treatment zone— not just the easy-to-reach surfaces.

The GreenTech Heat Solution

The GreenTech Heat methodology and equipment has been proven through thirty years of university laboratory studies and millions of real-world heat treatments. When properly conducted, a heat treatment will reduce bacterial populations below safe and odor-free limits. Temperature measurements provides an empirical ensurance that every bed bug in the treatment area was exposed to the proper time at a lethal temperature. No other heat treatment methodology can provide this level of surety.

No games or gimmicks. No spray, hope, and pray. GreenTech Heat has a better, holistic solution to eliminate odors and reduce bacterial populations.

GreenTech Heat technology is 100% effective for bed bugs, cockroaches, and all other insects. Heat kills microbes, viruses, and bacteria that can cause allergies and odors. GreenTech Heat equipment allows you to self-treat with heat on your schedule and as your needs demand. Our certified training lets you do it right and do it safely the first time. Heat safely kills insects and microbes everywhere they may be found in a single one-day treatment. Call us at 888-699-3944. We have bed bug heaters for sale to get started with heat today.

We do not provide heat treatment services.

GreenTech Heat designs, manufactures, and sells portable electric and propane heaters, fans, and treatment accessories specifically designed for the efficient killing of all insect pests, especially bed bugs and their eggs. In some cases, owning our equipment has a lower total cost and greater timeliness than utilizing an outside service.
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