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FINAL RETORT - RP-397

THE. EFFECT OP VENTILATION AND RELATIVE HUMIDITY


UPON AIRBORNE BACTERIA UJ SCHOOLS
G.E. Green, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N OWO
K. Sareen, KS Engineering Inc.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
A.D. Osborne, Dept. of Veterinary Microbiology
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N OWO
ABSTRACT
It is hypothesized that the increase in respiratory diseases in
winter is caused by the reduced indoor relative humidity increasing
the survival time of airborne bacteria *and viruses. This paper
reports the effect of ventilation and relatives, humidity upon the
number of airborne colony forming units per m
(cfu/m ) in six
schools. The airborne bacteria found were mainly non-pathogenic with
a few pathogenic bac^ria appearing in December, January and February.
The number of cfu/ra were mainly a function of occupancy. In
non-occupied periods the number of cfu/m were in the range of 40 to
70, this increased to 300 to 700 as soon as the students entered the
classroom. The average level of the cfu/m was largely a function of
the air recirculation rate because the filter removed 90% of the
airborne bacteria Ordinary filters were effective in removing the
bacteria from air and could be used to minimize airborne bacteria in
buildings. The number of classroom airborne bacteria were reduced
slightly as the relative humidity decreased which does not support the
hypothesis proposed for the increase of respiratory illnesses in
winter. They were, however, mainly non-pathogenic and the pathogens
may have a different survival pattern with relative humidity. In
general, the level of airborne bacteria in the classroom were mainly a
function of occupancy and air recirculation rate through a filter.
KEYWORDS:
Humidity, microbiology, school, space environment,
ventilation, filters, indoor air quality

'"safes-

FINAL REPORT - RP-397


THE EFFECT OF INDOOR RELATIVE HUMIDITY ON SURVIVAL
OF AIRBORNE MICROORGANISMS AND RELATED ABSENTEEISM
IN SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS
G.H. GREEN
DEPT. OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING
UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN
SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA S7N 0W0

INTRODUCTION
Airborne infections are caused by bacteria and virus that survive
their transport through the air, find a favorable landing site, and
cause an infection.

Survival depends upon a number of factors, and

this reports the investigation of two of them, indoor relative


humidity and ventilation.

Relative humidity affects the survival of

airborne microorganisms, and the general rule seems to be that the


midrange of relative humidity is the most lethal.

A number of

investigators attribute the increase in respiratory infections in


winter to the lower indoor relative humidity of that season permitting
an increased survival of airborne infectious microorganisms. Studies
that have been conducted with a population divided into two
groupsone in a higher humidity, not exceeding 50% RH, the other with
a lower humidity-have found the incidence of colds or absenteeism was
reduced in 9 out of 13 experiments with the higher humidity.

If the

cause of reduction in colds and absenteeism is reduced survival of


airborne infectious agents in the high humidity range, then another
cause in reduction should occur with increased ventilation, as the
airborne-viable contents of the air will be diluted.

This

investigation tried to validate the hypothesis that indoor relative


humidity and ventilation affect the transmission of colds.

MEASUHEMENTS AM) METHODS - SCHOOLS


A preliminary investigation began in March 1983 with measurement
in 12 schools taken randomly with respect to time of day and class
occupancy.

Twelve schools were selected because it would have

provided a large enough sample of students for statistical significant


test.
However, it was noted that the airborne bacteria counts were a
function of the time of day.

Airborne bacteria counts in the schools

increased rapidly up to the recess period, decreased, then increased


until noon, and decreased rapidly during the noon hour. The airborne
counts were obviously a function of the number of students, so daily
hour readings had to be taken, which was not possible for 12 schools.
Therefore, the study was reduced to the six schools whose heating and
ventilation characteristics are shown in Table 1.

A more extensive

measurement study was undertaken of school (HC) for more detailed


analysis of airborne counts.
The increased number of measurements six to ten for each school
per day meant that the investigation had to be restricted to an
analysis of the effect of ventilation and relative humidity on the
3
number of colony forming units per cubic meter (cfu/m ) of indoor air.
The investigations of the six schools began in September 1983 with the
beginning of classes.

Six schools would not provide a student

population of sufficient size for an analysis of their effect on


absenteeism.

Nevertheless, the absentee records were taken and

plotted as shown later in this report but not put into the technical
paper.
Readings of relative humidity, dust, and airborne counts were

taken before the class started 08:30, then repeated at 09:30, 10:00,
11:00, 11:30, 12:15, 12:40, and 12:35.
Relative humidity was measured with an aspirating psychometer
with readings taken during the microbial sampling period.
The airborne bacteria counts were made with an Andersen sampler
that collects air at 28.3 L/min through six stage with decreasing
diamter holes in each succeeding plate. As the jet velocity increases
with the decreasing diameters of the holes, smaller particles are
recovered at each successive stage.

Below each plate, a surface

containing the nutrient agar receives the airborne particles separated


according to their aerodynamic dimensions.

Samples were taken for

5-15 minutes, then the petri plates were removed, incubated, and the
colonies counted by the 'positive hole' method.
The reproducibility of the Andersen sampler was confirmed by
using two additional samplers side by side.

The results were within


3
10% over the entire range of up to 2200 colony-forming units/m
(cfu/m3).
Airborne dust samples were taken simultaneously with the airborne

bacteria collection with the sampler.

A respirable aerosol mass

monitor was used to determine the respirable mass content of the air.
Mass content of the air was registered in Mg/m
balance.

by a piezoelectric

A cut-off impactor of 10 microns rejected all sizes above

that value.

Sampling rate was one litre per minute, with a measuring

time concentration of 120 seconds and the repeatibility and accuracy


of - 10% plus one digit on 4 decimal digits.
The air-change rate of a classroom is a sum of the infiltration
plus the air quantity entering the room through the diffusers.

The

air-change rate was determined by using N 2 0 as a tracer gas.

predetermined quantity of N 2 0 was released into the air and additional


mixing was created in empty classrooms with two 24-inch propeller
fans. After a mixing period, a sample was taken every five minutes by
pumping the room air into a sample bag for later analysis.

Five

samples were taken in each test. Analysis of the gas was made with an
infrared analysis instrument.

Results were consistent and checked

with measured airflow quantities from the diffusers.

The combined

room air-change rate resulting from the infiltration and recirculation


will be referred to as the recirculation rate, as the air is mostly
recirculated in the study of the school, HC.
Since the natural death of airborne bacteria is a logorithmic
function (described in the next section), the decay rate of viable
bacteria in an empty classroom was determined by taking samples at
3
selected time intervals. These cfu/m were plotted on semilog paper
to determine the equivalent air change rate of the decay of the
viables.

MEASUREMENTS AND METHODS - HOSPITALS


In the preliminary investigation period, March to September,
3
1983, readings of humidity, dust, and cfu/m were taken in three
hospitals by the same means as in the schools.

Then it became

apparent that the varying number of occupants in a room created a


transient level of airborne counts because airborne cells and bacteria
a

are dispersed by the human body at a very high rate 5 x 10 cells per
7
day of which 10 particles bear viable organisms. For the same reason
as the schools, an immense number of readings would be required in

each of the three hospitals under investigation.

To limit the

readings, the levels in the intensive care unit in each of three


hospitals were taken once per month with readings every hour from 8:00
am to 12:30 pm.
The hospitals were:

Hospital A was cooled in the summer with

central air conditioning and the same system ventilated and humidified
the rooms in winter.
radiators.

Heating in the winter season was done with

The windows were of the double pane non-opening type.

Hospital B and C were not air conditioned, not humidified, and the
windows and storm windows were openable.

Hospital A had 185 staff,

and hospitals B and C, 650 and 1560 respectively.


It was not possible to measure ventilation rates in the hospitals
as their duct systems were too extensive and the hospitals much too
large to conduct a tracer gas technique for air change rates for this
investigation.
More extensive readings wwould have to be taken in hospitals to
justify a paper on the results.

RESULTS SCHOOLS
The results of the school investigation are reported in the paper
"The Effect of Ventilation and Relative Humidity upon Airborne
Bacteria in Schools" attached to this report.

The effects of

humidity, ventilation, filtration, dust, air recirculation, carpets


along with the species of non-pathogenic and pathogenic bacteria
isolated are discussed in this report.
Two items of significance awere not discussed because of the lack
of sufficient data to establish a reasonable case for, (1) the

bacteria relationship between airborne counts and absenteeism, and (2)


the airborne pathogens and their relationship to relative humidity.
The trends of absenteeismas a measure of illness^-and airborne
bacteria concentration shown in Figures 1 and 2 of this report may be
of great significance but is not considered reliable because it was
obtained from six classes of 20 students each which is too small for
statistically significant results.
3
Figure 1 shows an increase in absenteeism with increase in cfu/m
3
(colony forming units per meter ) .

Figure 2 shows the same

absenteeism data plotted versus airchange or recirculation rate and


the one point Q.E. stands out.

There is reason to believe that the

discharge rate determined with the room unoccupied is not the correct
value for the occupied state of this classroom.

(Air change rates

were done on unoccupied rooms because N 2 0 was used as the tracer gas.)
The trend of the data would suggest there is a relationship between
the number of monthly non-pathogenic cfu/m

measured in this

investigation and absenteeism.


It was evident the viability of non-pathogenic bacteria decreased
with reduced relative humidity a trend that was in opposition to the
general trends that have been established in laboratory studies. That
is, the viability decreases with increased relative humidity up to
about 50% then increases.
There is the possibility that the pathogen and illness causing
virus which were not detected in this study show a different pattern
of survival with relative humidity.

Most respiratory illnesses are

caused by virus and are extremely difficult to detect in the airborne


state.

Further investigations will be needed that isolate virus and

other pathogens and since they appear in very low numbers, it may be
difficult or impossible with the known methods.

RESULTS HOPITALS
The concentration of non-pathogenic airborne bacteria in the
intensive care units of the hospitals for the period August to
September, 1983, are shown in Figures 3,4 and 5.

The counts are low

compared to schools, occurring in the range of 30 to 200 cfu/m . High


readings were found wwhen activities took place in the ICU. The data
of Hospital C shows what happened when workmen began repairs to the
mechanical systems in the ceiling space.

People entering the unit

also caused excursions from the basic levels. The reduction on the
3
cfu/m with reduction in relative humidity was similar to the schools
and no pathogens were found in the hospitals.

CONCLUSIONS
Schools
The investigation of the effect of relative humidity and
ventilation on the airborne bacterial content of air in schools
revealed the following:
3
1. The number of airborne bacterial colony-forming units per m

of

air in schools is highly dependent on the number of occupants in


the classroom.

Therefore, any study of the effect of room

environment on airborne bacteria must take into account the


variation of them with the number of occupants.
3
2. The cfu/m number of airborne bacteria in the classroom were
mostly removed by filtration of recirculated air.

3. Ordinary filters with high air recirculation rates are highly


effective in removing airborne bacteria from rooms.

They may

constitute a means for protecting building occupants from


bacterial pathogens produced by sprays, humidifiers and other
conditioning equipment that could produce illness causing airborne
bacteria.
4. A decrease of indoor relative humidity reduced the number of
3
cfu/fri in the air. Other studies that show the opposite did not
take into account the variation in number of occupants and the
effect of ventilation air recirculation.
5. This study did not substantiate the hypothesis that the rediction
in absenteeism and respiratory illnesses in winter with increased
indoor relative humidity is caused by the reduction in lowered
survival time of airborne micro-organisms with increased humidity.
6.

Pathogenic bacteria were only found in the mid-winter season.


While this investigation revealed many aspects of airborne

bacterial contamination in schools that may be significant to all


buildings, further investigations will have to be undertaken to
substantiate the findings.
A great quantity of information was produced by the study.
Several of the conclusions presented above obviously need additional
research.
The possible use of ordinary filters as protection against
pathogenic airborne bacteria and airborne allergens produced by air
conditioning would rate high in priorities.

Actual work with the

airborne pathogens would have to be done by laboratories who have the


means for working safely with these microorganisms.

However, the

microorganisms generated in the classroom of R.P. 397 can be used to


study the airborne microorganism removal of filters in the field,
examining individual filters sealing and other practical problems.
It was not possible in R.P. 397 to determine if there was a
relationship between he number of non-pathogenic airborne bacteria
and illness, but the trend of reduced illness with reduced
non-pathogenic airborne microorganisms is of sufficient importance to
warrant further studies.
The apparent higher level of airborne microorganisms that
occurred in the one school with a high nap carpet warrants further
studies.
Schools because of their high occupancy generates high levels of
non-pathogenic airborne bacteria and assuming that this is a
reflection of pathogens, it indicates that schools may be a good type
of building to investigate the transmission of airborne diseases.
Hospitals
The large size and diverse characteristics of the various
departments of hospitals make them difficult buidings in which to make
general studies of airborne microorganisms.

Many studies of the

spread of specific airborne disease have been reported in the


literature for hospitals.
to that knowledge.
to

confirm

the

This study RP 397 contributed very little

The major contribution of the hospital studies was

reduction

of

viable airborne microorganism

concentration with rediced relative humidity.

10

UTILIZATION OF HP-397
The Effect of Ventilation and Relative Humidity upon Airborne
Bacteria in Schools

1. This research is related to:


a) Fundamentals Volume/ Chapter 8, Physiological Principles,
Comfort and Health, Section indoor Climate and Health; Chapter
11, Air Contaminants Section, Airborne Microorganism.
b) Equipment Volume, Chapter 10, Air Cleaners, Section Filters.
c) Application Volume, Chapter 6, Education Facilities Ventilation
Requirement; Chapter 7, Health Facilities.
2.

This research extends our present knowledge of the levels of


non-pathogentic bacteria in schools. It was demonstrated that the
filter was quite effective in removing bacteria from the air and
that the classroom recirculation air change rate through the
filter was the greatest factor in lowering airborne bacteria
levels. Our knowledge of the effect of relative humidity upon the
life of airborne bacteria was increased.

3. This work bears out the recirculation concept in hospital


operating room prevented by, Luciano, J.R., New Concept in French
Hospital Operating Room HVAC Systems, ASHRAE Journal, Feb. 1984,
p. 30, and suggests a new approach in the chapter "Health
Facilities" in the application volume.
4.

Further investigations suggested by RP 397 are:


a) The place of filters in removing airborne legionella bacteria
from HVAC systems.
b) An investigation of the relationship between non-pathogenic
bacteria, to pathogenic bacteria, virus and the transmission of
airborne infections in general would be extremely important.
This would relate the easily detected non-pathogens to illness
and permit us to determine levels of airborne bacteria
accepable for health standards.

., JU-USLE J.
School Heating and Ventilating Systans
p-.

Heating System

Humidifying
System

Outdoor Air
Per Person

Natural Gas
Warm - Air

Air Washer

1.5 L/sec
3 cfm

2.6

15

525

HC

Natural Gas
Warm - Air

Air Washer

1.5 L/sec.
3 cfm

3.0

8.2

287

KG

Steam Radiators

Air Washer

5.0 L/sec
100 cfm

15

525

NP

Hot Water
Radiators

None

1.5 L/sec
3 cfm

3.00

13

455-

QE

Unit Ventilators

None

0.63

13.6

476

Unit Ventilators

None

0.63

15

527

School

Recirculation
Rate Ac/Mr

All Fresh Air


1.22

Room Vol.
Per Student

Unit ventilator controls were set with minimum fresh air when heating was required
opening to admit outdoor air as cooling was required.

20 students was average in all schools

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No.2887(RP-397)

The Effect of Ventilation


and Relative Humidity
upon Airborne Bacteria in Schools
G.H. Green

K. Sareen

A.D. Osborne

ASHRAE Fellow

ABSTRACT

It is hypothesized that the increase in respiratory diseases in winter is caused by the


reduced indoor relative humidity increasing the survival tine of airborne bacteria and
viruses. This paper reports the effect of ventilation and relative humidity upon the number
of airborne colony-forming units per m (cfu/m ) in six schools. The airborne bacteria found
were mainly nonpathogenic with.a few pathogenic bacteria appearing in December, January, and
February. The number of cfu/m were mainly a function of occupancy: in noncccupied periods,
the numbers of cfu/m were in the range of 40 to 70, which increased to 300 to 700 as scon as
the students entered the classroom. The average level of the cfu/m was largely a function of
the air recirculation rate, because the filter removed 90% of the airborne bacteria. Ordinary
filters are very effective in removing bacteria from air and could be used as a protection
from sources disseminating pathogenic bacteria in ventilating systems.
The number of
classroom airborne bacteria was reduced slightly as the relative humidity decreased, which
does not support the hypothesis proposed for the increase of respiratory illnesses in winter.
They were, however, mainly nonpathogenic, and the pathogens may have a different survival
pattern with relative humidity. In general, the level of airborne bacteria in the classroom
was mainly a function of occupancy and air recirculation rate through a filter.

INTHTPCTIOW

Airborne infections are caused by bacteria and virus that survive their transport through the
air, find a favorable landing site, and cause an infection. Survival depends upon a number of
factors, and this paper investigates two of them, indoor relative humidity and ventilation.
Relative humidity affects the survival of airborne microorganisms, and the general rule seems
to be that the midrange of relative humidity is the most lethal (Akers and Oinmick 1969). A
number of investigators (Sale 1972; Hemes, Kbol, and Winkler; Hope-Simpson 1958) attribute the
increase in respiratory infections in winter to the lower indoor relative humidity of that
season permitting an increased survival of airborne infectious microorganisms. Studies that
have been conducted with a population divided into two groupsone in a higher humidity, not
exceeding 50% BE, the other with a lower humidityhave found the incidence of colds or
absenteeism was reduced in 9 out of 13 experiments with the higher humidity. If the cause of
reduction in colds and absenteeism is the reduced survival of airborne infectious agents in
the high humidity range, then another cause in reduction should occur with increased
ventilation, as the airborne-viable contents of the air will be diluted. This investigation
tries to validate the hypothesis that indoor relative humidity and ventilation affect the
transmission of colds. The airborne microbial count was measured in six schools along with
ventilation or recirculation rates, relative humidity, dust, and absentee rates to determine
if there was a relationship between these factors.

STUDlcS CF THE atTJLT OF INDOOR RELATIVE HUMIDITY. ON RESPIRATORY TT.T.NESSES


Respiratory illnesses have a yearly cyclical frequency that is at a peak in winter and a
G.H. Green, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan; K. Sareen, KS Engineering, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; A.D. Osborne, Department of
Veterinary Mircobiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
THIS PREPRINT FOR DISCUSSION PURPOSES ONLY. FOR INCLUSION IN ASHRAE TRANSACTIONS 1985, V. 91. PL 2. Not to be
reprinted in whole or in part without written permission of the American Society of Heating, Ralrigerating and Air-Condltloning
Engineer*. Inc, 1791 Tullie Circle. NE. Atlanta. GA 30329. Opinions, lindings. conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this
paper am those of the authorts) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASHRAE.

the results must be considered tentative.


The objective of this study is to investigate the effect of relative humidity and
ventilation rates on the concentration of airborne bacteria in elementary schools.
MEASUREMENTS AND METHODS
With the objective of getting random samples of airborne bacteria and relative humidity, the
study began with measurements of airborne bacteria, relative humidity, dust, and surface
bacteria in 12 schools. A single classroom in each school of about 20 Grade 3 students of
ages 7, 8, or 9 was selected.
It was noted that the airborne bacteria counts were a function of the time of day (Figure
6).
Airborne bacteria counts in the schools increased rapidly up to the recess period,
decreased, then increased until noon, and decreased rapidly during the noon hour.
The
airborne counts were obviously a function of the number of students, so daily hourly readings
had to be taken, which was not possible for 12 schools. Therefore, the study was reduced to
the six schools whose heating and ventilation characteristics are shown in Table 2. A more
extensive measurement study was undertaken of school (EC) for more detailed analysis of
airborne counts.
Readings of relative humidity, dust, and airborne counts were taken before the class
started 08:30, then repeated at 09:30, 10:00, 11:00, 11:30, 12:15, 12:40, and 12:35.
A
typical plot of the results is shown in (Figure 6 ) .
Relative humidity was measured with an aspirating psychometer with readings taken during
the microbial sampling period.
The airborne bacteria counts were made with an Andersen sampler that collects air at 28.3
I/min through six stages with decreasing diameter holes in each succeeding plate. As the jet
velocity increases with the decreasing diameters of the holes, smaller particles are recovered
at each successive stage. Below each plate, a surface containing the nutrient agar receives
the airborne particles separated according to their aerodynamic dimensions. Samples were
taken for 5-15 minutes, then the petri plates were removed, incubated, and the colonies
counted by the 'positive hole' method (Andersen 1968).
The reproducibility of the Anderson sampler was confirmed by using two additional
samplers side by side^ The ^results were within 10% over the entire range of up to 2200
colony-forming units/m (cfu/ra ) .
Airborne dust samples were taken simultaneously, with the airborne bacteria collection
with the sampler. A respirable aerosol" mass monitor was used to determine the respirable mass
content of the air. Mass content of the air was registered in Mg/m by a piezoelectric
balance. A cut-off impactor of 10 microns rejected all sizes above that value. Sampling rate
was one litre per minute, with a measuring time concentration of 120 seconds and the
repeatibility and accuracy of +10% plus one digit on 4 decimal digits.
The air-change rate of a classroom is a sum of the infiltration plus the air quantity
entering the room through the diffusers. The air-change rate was determined by using N.O as a
tracer gas. A predetermined quantity of N-0 was released into the air and additional mixing
was Created in empty classrooms with two z4-inch propellor fans. After a mixing period, a
sample was taken every five minutes by pumping-the room air into a sample bag for later
analysis.
Five samples were taken in each test. Analysis of the gas was made with an
infrared analysis instrument.
Results were consistent and checked with measured airflow
quantities from the diffusers.
The combined room air-change rate resulting from the
infiltration and recirculation will be referred to as the recirculation rate, as the air is
mostly recirculated in the study of the school, HC.
Since the natural death of airborne bacteria is a logorithmic function (described in the
next section), the decay rate of viable bacteria in an., empty classroom was determined by
taking samples at selected time intervals. These cfu/m were plotted on semilog paper to
determine the equivalent air change rate of the decay of the viables.
The records of absenteeism in the schools were obtained from the teachers on a monthly
basis. The absenteeism for all causes was used since respiratory infections account for 60%

same school.
The mechanism of the death of viable particles, which have been studied in an aerosol
chamber, has shown two slopes: the initial decay, ^ , and a later decay constant, K_. In
this study, a mean decay was determined because of the length of time required for airborne
bacteria sampling.
The loss of viable airborne bacteria in the air is
loss due to the recirculated air rate and the decay loss
the air, which has been shown to be a function of a
relative humidity, which has a significant effect (Akers

considered as the sum of the dilution


due to the natural occurring death in
number of factors, one of which is
and Dimnick 1969).

The study of the separate effect of air changes per hour and relative humidity was
carried out by determining the slope, K, of the decay curves. In Figure 8, a study of the
effect of air-change rate in a single school at a constant relative humidity is shown. The
test began at 11:55, so the cfu/m are at a maximum; then the students leave, so the occupancy
is zero. Curves A was are obtained by turning off the ventilation fans so that the decay
represents the lowest air-change rate, caused by infiltration only, which was found with
tracer-gas decay equal to, 0.30 AC/hr. -At the same time, samples of air were taken with the
sampler to find the decay rate of cfu/m with no occupancy. This slope is given by Curve A'
equal to 1.80 AC/hr. The loss of viability due to biological death is represented by the
difference in slopes between A and A'. The decay rate was equivalent to 1.5 = (1.8-0.3)
AC/hr. Repeating the test with the ventilation fans on, Curve B is the decay rate represented
by the dilution of the ventilation air and Curves B' are the combined effect of ventilation
and biological death.- The biological decay rate of curve B is 5.62 - 3.0 = 2.62 AC/hr.
The increase in cfu/m
Figure 9.

resulting from a reduction in recirculation rate is shown in

Figure 10 shows the reduction in the cfu/m that occurred in one school with reduction in
indoor humidity. All the data showed the same trend, that is, a reduction in indoor relative
humidity resulted in a reduction of viable airborne bacteria.
Several species of the non-pathogenic airborne viables from the schools were grown in
culture so they could be atomized into the air of a chamber that could be kept at a selected
relative humidity. Samples taken at time intervals established the viability of the bacteria
at various humidities. The tests showed that the survival time of bacteria decreased with
lowered relative humidity.
Respirable dust levels of 10 micron or less showed a relationship to the cfu/m increased
as the duct content increased as shown in Figure U .
Whether ' the bacteria and their
associated skin cells contributed to the dust count or vice versa is not known.
Absenteeism in the various schools and their average relative humidities and
recirculation rates are shown in Table 6. These are the studies of the Grade 3 classroom in
each school that had about 20 pupils each. There was a small but not significant decrease in
absenteeism with increase in recirculation rate. There was no significant difference in
absenteeism due to the different relative humidities in the various schools. The sample size
of 20 students per class is not large enough for statistically significant results.
An
analyses of the entire population of the schools over several years will have to be undertaken
to establish the effect of relative humidity and recirculation rate on absenteeism in schools.
DISCOSSION
Occupancy is the major factor in determining the number of viable, airborne bacteria {cfu/m )
in occupied spaces.
The high dispersal rate of viables (10 per day per person) was
demonstrated in the rapid rise of cfu/m immediately after the students entered the classroom
and by the rapid decrease of the counts when the students, left the classroom. During the
occupied period, the level of airborne bacteria (cfu/m ) was determined mainly by the
recirculation rate of air supplied to the room.
Dilution with outdoor air (measured outdoor air counts were -3.8 C, 52 c f u / ; 22 C, 26
cfu/m ) where the counts were usually from 25 to 75 cfu/m resulted in only a small reduction
in bacteria because the outdoor air rate was about 10% to 15% of the recirculation rate.

3. Ordinary filters with high air recirculation rates are highly effective in removing
airborne bacteria from rooms. They may constitute a means for protecting building occupants
from bacterial pathogens produced by sprays, humidifiers, and other conditioning equipment
that could produce illness by causing airborne bacteria.
4. A decrease in indoor relative humidity reduced the number of cfu/m in the air.
Other studies that showed the opposite did not take into account the variation in number of
occupants and the effect of ventilation and air recirculation.
5. This study did not substantiate the hypothesis that the reduction in absenteeism and
respiratory illnesses in winter with increased indoor relative humidity is caused by the
reduction in airborne microorganisms with increased humidity.
6. Pathogenic bacteria were only found in the midwinter season.
Vfliile this investigation revealed many aspects of airborne bacterial contamination in
schools that may be significant to all buildings, further investigations will have to be
undertaken to substantiate the findings.

Andersen, A.A., "New Sampler for the Collection, Sizing, and Enumeration of Viable Airborne
Particles," Journal of Bacterilogy, V. 76, 1968, p. 471-84.
Akers, A.B.; and Dimmick, R.L., An Introduction to Experimental Areobiology, Wiley, 1969, p.
280.
Dang, V.B.; Guberan, E.; and Sweetman P.M., "L'humidification de L'air des Locant Previent
elle les Maladies Respiratoires Pendant L'hiver," Schweizerische Medizinische
Wbchenschrift, 108, No. 22, 1978.
Druett, H.A., "The Inhalation and Retention of Particles in the Human Respiratory System,
Airborne Microbes," in P.H. Gregory and J.L. Montieth, eds., 17th Symposium of Society
for General Microbiology, London, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1967.
Green, G.H., "The Positive and Negative Effects of Building Humidification," ASHRAE Trans.,
1982, Vol. 88., Pti 1.
Green, G.H., "Winter Humidities and the Related Absenteeism in Canadian Hospitals," Digest of
the 3rd CMBES Canadian Clinical Engineering Conference, Sept. 1981, Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan.
Green, G.H., "The Effect of Indoor Relative Humidity on Absenteeism and Colds in Schools,"
ASHRAE Transactions, 80, Part 2, 1974.
Gregg, J.B., "The Importance of Environment in Prevention of Upper Respiratory Infections,"
South Dakota Journal of Medicine, 21, 1968, p. 21-25.
Hemmes, H.J.; Kool, S.M.; and Winkler, K.C., "Virus Survival as a Seasonal Factor in Influenza
and Polyiometis," Nature, 188(4748), p. 430.
Hope-Simpson, R.E., "The Epidemiology of Non-Infectious Diseases," Royal Society Health J.,
78, 1958, p. 593.
Kilbourne, E.D., and Schulman, J.L., "Airborne Transmission of Influenza Virus Infection in
Mice," Nature, Sept. 15, 1962, 1129.
Lester, W., "The Influence of Relative Humidity on the Infectivity of Airborne Influenza A
Virus," Journal of Exp. Med., 88, 1948, p. 361-8.
Lubart, J., "The Common cold and Humidity Imbalance," New York State Journal of Medicine,
March 15, 1962, p. 816-819.
Luciano, J.R., "New Concept in French Hospital Operating Room HVAC Systems," ASHRAE Journal,
Feb. 1984, p. 30.

TABLE 2
School Heating and Ventilating Systems
School

Heating System

Humidifying
System

Outdoor Air
Per Person

Natural Gas
Warm - Air

Air Washer

l.S L/sec
3 cfm

2.6

15

525

HC

Natural Gas
Warm - Air

Air Washer

l.S L/sec
3 cfm

3.0

8.2

287

KG

Steam Radiators

Air Washer

5.0 L/sec
100 cfm

15

525

NP

Hot Water
Radiators

None

l.S L/sec
3 cfm

3.00

13

45S

QE

Unit Ventilators

None

0.63

13.6

476

Unit Ventilators

None

0.63

15

527

Recirculation
Rate Ac/Mr

All Fresh Air


1.22

Room Vol.
Per Student
_ 3J r <t-*
m

Unit ventilator controls were set with minimum fresh air when heating was required
opening to admit outdoor air as cooling was required.

20 students was average in all schools

TABLE 3
Bacterial Species Isolated
VENTILATION DUCTS APARTMENTS
Airborne bacteria
Micrococcus spp.

SWISS OFFICE

SASKATOON SCHOOLS

C.f.u./m of air
7.28
Micrococcus

Staphylococcus spp.
Staphylococcus aureus
Aeroceceus viridaoa

0.08
2.37

Staphylococcus

Streptococcus
(group D)
S. (group vixidans)
S. spp. (other groups)

0.89
0.S5
1.S4

Streptococcus spp.

3t-eptoccccus

Bacillus cereua
B. Subtilis
B. spp. (other groups)

0.26
0.19
1.17

Bacillus spp.

Bacillus spp.

Coruneoacteriun xerosis
C. ulcerans
C. haeRolueicuff
C. spp. (other groups)

0.25
0.12
0.03
0.10

Corynebacterium SPP>

C. spp.

Enterobacter
Acinetobacter

0.06
0.86

Gratr-negative bacilli

Gram-negative b a c i l l i

agglomrans
caicoaceticus

3.21

Pseudouonas vesicularis
P. spp. (groups CDC)
P. pucre/asciens
P. picketti
P. paucimbilis
P. spp. (other groups)

0.22
0.26
0.07
0.06
0.03
0.06

Mora mils
osloensls
Branhanella cacharrhalis
Flavobacterium weningosepticun

0.34
0.31
0.13

Other non-fermentative gram-negative bacilli

0.31

Neisseria spp.

0.07

Total

21.82 c.f.u./m

aureus

S. Aureus

Neissera spp.
3

spp.

OFFICE STAFF N.S


S2

7-

GENEVA

SASKATOON
GENEVA
9ERNE
MISSOURI

6V)

m
<
5i
z
o
in
a:

I9T7

N.S. NOT SIGNIFICANT


S. SIGNIFICANT
HOSPITAL STAFF N.S.
, SASKATOON

3o

o
o
o

OFFICE STAFF S.
***

-*ARMY RECRUITS S.
(OCCURENCES] MISSOURI

IS

20

23

30

35

% RELATIVE

Figure

1.

Effect
of
absenteeism

-1
ss

-r4S

40

SO

HUMIDITY

relative
of

humidity
adults

on

xTUUu

10

-GRADES I TO 3 N.S.
9-

AROMORE P.A.

8-1

NURSERY SCHOOL S.
NORFOLK VA.

GRAOES I TO 8 N.S.

GRADES I TO 6 N.S.

(NO HUMIOIFICATION I
HALIFAX

( NO HUMIOIFICATION )
COPENHAGEN

5
in

in
03

GRADES I TO 8 S.J

<

SASKATOON

KINDERGARTEN S.

ARDMORE P A .
SASKATOON

HALIFAX
BASEL
COPENHAGEN
NORFOLK V A .

BASEL

N.S. NOT SIGNIFICANT


S. SIGNIFICANT
- I

IS

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

% RELATIVE HUMIDITY

Figure

2.

Effect
of relative
humidity
absenteeism
of
children

on

SASKATOON SCHOOLS SEPT.-DEC. 1983


SCHOOL

2000

C
HC
KG
NP
QE
W

AIR CHANCES R . H . %

o
a
W
0
o

2.60
2.27
1.87
3.00
0.63
0.63

34
37
32
27
27
25

W-

1500

0.63A.C.25%R.H

l.87A.C.32%R.H.
z
a
z

1000

3.00A.C.27%R.H.
2.60A.C. 34%8.H.

o
8 500

2.27 A.C. 37 % R.H.


0.63A.C. 27%R.H.

OCCUPIED
i
I
9
10

OCCUPIED
LUNCH
OCCUPIED
I
I
i
II
12
13

TIME

Figure 6.

Airborne microorganisms,

variation

with time in

schools

COLONT FORMING UNITS / M J

Figure 7.

Typical values of cfu/m

in air-handling

system with air washer off

60
X

cc
hi
O
<

2800-1

40 -

UNOCCUPIED
OCCUPIED

UJ

CARPETED ROOM:

.'

2400-

20

<

2000-

1000

U.

o
2

o
z
o
o
UJ
CD
<

or

/
/

1400-

600

400
400-

200

/
0
/

800-

'

o /
o / o

-,
u

SEPT.
Figure 10.

U.

on
Ul

/
/
/
/

E
800

L *

1600-

OCT.

NOV.

DEC.

/8
1

!
04

1
12

1
16

DUST mg/m3

JAN.

Effect of indoor relative


humidity
on ait borne bacteria
concentration

Figure

II.

Respirable dust concentration


versus
airborne bacteria
concentration

1
20