The Political Economy of Innovation Annual Lecture: Rapid Indoor Air Quality Monitoring at Large Scale Events

April 4, 2024 | 4:00PM - 6:00PM
Online & in-person
Innovation Policy Lab, Munk School

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This event will take place in-person in the Boardroom at the Observatory, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, 315 Bloor Street W., Toronto ON.
The Political Economy of Innovation Annual Lecture
Rapid Indoor Air Quality Monitoring at Large Scale Events:
How the 2021 environmental study of the UK government’s Events Research Programme helped UK society reopen following a year of lockdowns
In early 2020, in the face of the unprecedented public health challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK Government convened the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), to provide evidence-based advice on the emergency response. As several “super-spreading” events that occurred around the world in indoor settings revealed the role of airborne transmission of the disease, public health advice focused on recommending severe limitations on social or professional gatherings indoors, in buildings and on public transport. In this context, mass gathering events, such as live music, sports, theatre performances business networking events and weddings were prohibited in the UK for over a year. A number of research consortia were quickly established to carry out basic and applied research on indoor transmission, to understand how indoor environments could be occupied safely. The Events Research Programme (ERP) was the largest multi-disciplinary research program of this nature, involving public health, behavioural and environmental studies. It was established by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) to assess risk factors for COVID-19 transmission at mass gathering events and the feasibility of public health risk reduction measures.
This talk will describe the “Environmental Study” of the ERP, a rapid evaluation of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and airborne transmission risk conducted at ten large venues around the UK during live events between April and July 2021. The study, which developed a significant evidence base on environmental risk factors at events, was designed to respond to the policy related questions, and to develop high level guidance for event operators and venue managers on environmental standards and safety at events. Following the programme, the UK government allowed the return of live events in July 2021. The talk will describe the approach taken to collect evidence at scale, and how the cycle of rapid reporting and evaluation was carried out. The talk will also describe the legal, logistical and reputational challenges to the research teams of working in this space and discuss the need for further work on indoor environments, in the context of climate change, the energy crisis and an aging population.
About the speaker
Liora Malki-Epshtein is an Associate Professor in Urban Fluid Mechanics and Air Quality, in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at University College London, and director of the Controlled Active Ventilation Environment Laboratory (CAVE). During the Covid-19 pandemic since April 2020, she worked with Transport for London (TfL) and Veolia on protection measures for bus drivers and waste collection crews, and on reducing risks to passengers on the London transport network. She was the Field studies lead on project AIRBODS, which was set up as a rapid response Covid project to understand disease transmission mechanisms in buildings. In April-July 2021, Liora led the largest Environmental Study of its kind worldwide for the UK Government’s Covid-19 Events Research Programme, a study of air quality and transmission risks that enabled the UK to finally re-open events in culture, music and sports industries following a year-long closure, while improving safety for staff and spectators. These studies have provided quantitative evidence of the state of indoor air quality in the UK in a wide range of real-world settings, to enable evidence-based decision by policy makers and to develop appropriate ventilation and operations guidelines for different sectors. This work is now being explored further in CAVE, a world-first large scale experimental facility dedicated to research air quality and other challenges of indoor environments and building design with particular emphasis on safety, health and wellbeing for building occupants.
This event is sponsored by the Innovation Policy Lab and the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy.
Innovation Policy Lab, Munk School


headshort of Liora Malki-Epshtein
Liora Malki-Epshtein

Associate Professor, Urban Fluid Mechanics and Air Quality, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, University College London and Director of the Controlled Active Ventilation Environment Laboratory (CAVE)

headshot of David Fisman
Dr. David Fisman

Physician and Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

Headshot of Fahad Razak
Dr. Fahad Razak

Physician and Canada Research Chair in Healthcare Data and Analytics, University of Toronto