ventilation system

GSA Fails to Upgrade Air Filtration

Agency has not brought air filtration systems in some federal buildings up to the higher CDC standards resulting from the pandemic.   November 9, 2022

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor

Institutional and commercial facilities have learned a great deal in the last two and a half years about what works and what does not — including social distancing, ultraviolet light applications, and enhanced ventilation — to prevent the spread of airborne illnesses such as COVID-19 within their walls. Apparently, not enough federal facilities have put these lessons into practice. 

The inspector general’s (IG) office at General Services Administration (GSA) recently said the agency has not brought air filtration systems in some federal buildings up to the higher CDC standards resulting from the pandemic, according to FEDweek. While auditors examined in detail only a small number of buildings, their findings likely have wider implications, since the main problem they identified — the advanced age of the buildings and their HVAC equipment — is common across the federal portfolio. 

The report notes that CDC guidance calls for increasing air filtration “to the highest possible level without significantly reducing design airflow” and for checking air handling unit air filters “to ensure they are within their service lives and are appropriately installed.” That guidance further reflects industry standards that call for using air filters with a “Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value” rating of 13 or higher to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

But the IG found that the Public Buildings Service “cannot install the recommended air filters in some GSA-owned facilities because the aging HVAC systems cannot handle MERV 13 air filters. In addition, PBS is not consistently verifying that operations and maintenance contractors change air filters or meet preventive maintenance requirements for air handling units in GSA-owned facilities.” 

It said that in examining GSA-owned 17 buildings, it found that because of their age, the HVAC systems of eight could not accommodate such filters; trying to use them “would reduce airflow and potentially cause the systems to fail.” Two were using filters that were past their expiration dates and in three, filters apparently were replaced “after we notified building managers of our planned inspections.” 

The IG added that the latest report was just one of a series raising issues with COVID-19 safety practices in federal buildings, including one questioning the effectiveness of cleaning practices, one complaining that GSA officials were hampering the IG’s work, and one saying that the PBS did not always receive or provide notice of incidents of infection in federal buildings. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 25 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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