Air Conditioning, Refrigeration, and Health

April 25, 2001
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It wasn’t called “Indoor Air Quality” yet, much less IAQ, but air treatment and the health benefits of an air conditioned environment were acknowledged more strongly in the 1960s than ever before. There were also great strides in understanding the role of refrigeration in food preservation.

“If the concept of ‘total air treatment’ were adopted, building design would not be hampered by the present requirement or ‘fetish’ for mechanical ventilation, and windows could be employed for the sole purpose of providing a view, suggests William L. McGrath, chief engineer of Carrier Corp.’s Unitary Equipment Div.” (The News, May 2, 1960).

“This discussion was part of a symposium on air cleaning and purification held by the Building Research Institute (BRI) during its recent spring conferences here.

“Several reasons for not taking substantial quantities of outside air into controlled living areas were offered by McGrath:

“‘In our urban areas the outside air is contaminated with wastes from industry, commerce, and transportation.… I hope I am not out of line in pointing out the ever-present possibility of contamination by radioactive debris.…” He also cited a “constantly changing menu” of spores, pollen, and other allergens.

“It is McGrath’s opinion that ventilation is being required today largely because of tradition. Ordinary air leakage provides adequate control over oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, he indicated, and air conditioning has replaced the need for ventilation purposes of cooling.

“Building design, he also emphasized, is hamstrung by the traditional requirement for ‘cross ventilation,’ which is no longer necessary.”

In hospitals, it was recognized that modern ventilation systems would need some air treatment in order to prevent cross-infection of bacteria and contageous diseases.

“The need for devoting more attention to the problem of preventing infection from airborne bacteria in the design of hospitals and their air-handling systems, as well as the need for more information on the subject, was emphasized at the recent spring conferences held here by the Building Research Institute (BRI)” (The News, May 16, 1960).

“A review of some recent research on the problem was presented at an air cleaning and purification symposium by Dr. V.W. Greene of the University of Minnesota, who had prepared the paper with Profs. R.G. Bond and G.E. Michaelsen, also of the university’s health service.

“The problem is not a simple one, Greene pointed out. ‘Pathogenic bacteria can be introduced into the air at a considerable distance from susceptible patients, and can be transmitted to these hosts by means of air currents and inert, airborne particulate matter,’ he explained.

“‘Thus an unguarded sneeze or cough, any activity which disseminates viable pathogens, may contaminate a patient several hundred feet and several stories removed, and at a time well after the activity terminated.’”

Greene suggested remediation of the problem through careful system design incorporating dilution, germicides, UV irradiation, and electronic air cleaners.



Heat Illness

But perhaps most important in the public’s understanding of the importance of air conditioning to health was this report from August 1960; it was also reported in the mainstream media:

“Heat illness is a killer. It has not been well understood or recognized by physicians in civilian life. More of its victims (in metropolitan areas, at least) have developed symptoms in insufficiently ventilated and cooled enclosures than out in the broiling sun.

“That is the summation of some of the most significant findings reported in the article ‘Heat Illness’ in the July issue of GP, published by the American Academy General Practice, an association of physicians engaged in general practice of medicine and surgery.

“And either by inference of direct statement, the medical journal article points out that a first step in prevention, a first step in the cure, is a cooler environment.”



Bacteria at Low Temps

On the refrigeration side, the U.S. public had become accustomed to the convenience of having frozen and refrigerated food supplies. However, most assumed that because food was refrigerated, it was safe from bacterial contamination. In 1960, this was shown to be untrue.

“The recent furor over a proposed frozen food-handling code has focused much attention on the handling of food and the performance of refrigerated storage and display fixtures,” reported The News. “The accepted premise behind all low-temperature handling of food is that microorganisms are inhibited and food spoilage is thus retarded.

“From England, however, comes a report that a certain range of bacteria known as psycrophils, which grow profusely at conventional storage temperatures. According to the British report, ‘The widely held assumption that these cold-loving bacteria are not detrimental to the cold storage of food stuffs has received a severe blow by the discovery that they are much more common than was anticipated.

“‘The crux of the matter is that these organisms flourish most vigorously between 37° and 41°F.’”



A Healthy Attitude

In issue after issue of The News in the 60s, it was hard not to notice the number of men in our industry who suffered fatal heart attacks. Maybe it was the cigarettes or the diet; maybe it was the stress. (My own father had a heart attack in 1968, although it wasn’t fatal.)

On April 28, 1969, one News subscriber (Frank J. Herblan of the Residential Heating Guild, Denver, CO) announced that he had gotten off the merry-go-round.

“Take heart, all of you small thinkers. You are far and away in the majority and the mainstay of your industry. I rise to champion your cause for I am one of you.

“Fellow mopes, I don’t know how you feel about it, but I am one square who is tired of reading about the million-dollar boys. The trade publications seem to have decided that these cool cats are a real happening, and are trying to shame us into shedding our slow and pokey ways. This is ‘editorial brutality’ in subtle form.

“Let me say that I have no quarrel with the swingers. If they are on a happy trip, let them take another fix, or another puff, as the case may be. What I want to know is what has convinced the trade news media that I want any part of that scene. Really, gentlemen, I don’t! I am a beer and pretzels square by choice. Your most alluring articles couldn’t blast me off my backside with a megaton bomb.

“Once upon a time, in another age and it seems on another planet, I was chasing that big buck too. Forty grand a year net, and blowing it as fast as I was making it. It’s real easy to do. The name of the game was ‘Go, Go, Go!’ After ten years on this kick I finally got the word. My ulcers and palpitations put through the message loud and clear: ‘Cop out.’

“So what? So now I do about $50,000 total annual volume at a 33% net, all replacements and add-ons, with about half that in repair service. I don’t chase my prospects — they come to me. I pick and choose my jobs, all payable cash upon completion. I make a comfortable living, even bank a few bucks for my old age — for now I expect to have an old age — and what’s more important, I am a happy man! Who the hell needs more?”

Publication date: 04/30/2001

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