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RE: Indoor Air Quality

Dear Website Customer:

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is one of the buzzwords of the 90's…a topic on which volumes have been written. Our goal is to give you an overview of the subject as well as paths to follow in order to prevent or resolve IAQ problems in the building you manage.

Three elements are involved in the development of indoor air quality problems:

  • SOURCE - there is a source of contamination or discomfort indoors, outdoors, or within the mechanical systems of the building. Some common sources are: mold, pollen, dust, fungal spores, industrial pollutants, vehicle exhaust, dumpster and unsanitary debris odor, radon, pesticides, smoking, cooking, and cleaning materials.
  • PATHWAYS - one or more pollutant pathways connect the pollutant source to the occupants and a driving force exists to move pollutants along the pathways. The HVAC system is generally the predominant pathway and driving force for contaminant movement in buildings. However, all of a building's components (walls, ceilings, floors, penetrations, HVAC equipment, and occupants) interact to affect the distribution of contaminants.
  • OCCUPANTS - generally, these are the people who spend extended time periods (i.e. a full workday) in the building. Groups that may be particularly susceptible to effects of indoor air contaminants include, but are not limited to: allergy or asthma sufferers, contact lens wearers, people with respiratory or heart disease, and people whose immune systems are suppressed due to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, disease or other causes.

Because of varying sensitivity among people, one individual may react to a particular IAQ problem while surrounding occupants have no ill affects. In other cases, complaints may be widespread. A single indoor air pollutant or problem can trigger different reactions in different people. Common symptoms and complaints are: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, cough, sneezing, dizziness, nausea, and skin, eye, nose and throat irritation. All of these symptoms may also be caused by other factors, and are not necessarily due to air quality deficiencies.

To solve IAQ problems in buildings, the contributing factors of each element must be eliminated. The SOURCE of contaminants and the effects upon OCCUPANTS can be eliminated by using some simple common sense. For example: remove debris more often and provide for additional housekeeping; or make sure people with sensitivity problems are kept in clean, low traffic areas of the facility.

PATHWAY problems, unfortunately, are not only more difficult to solve, but also are the largest contributors to IAQ problems. Better filtration, clean ductwork, and properly operated fresh air ventilation systems are keys to preventing and repairing IAQ problems. Most facility operators have the ability to prevent and repair problems by simply operating and maintaining the existing automatic ventilation systems designed into their facility in the manner in which they were intended.

An effective communication system helps management and occupants to clarify their responsibilities and cooperate in identifying and solving (as well as preventing) IAQ problems. Larger firms might consider incorporating IAQ into an existing Health and Safety Committee, or forming such a group if it doesn't exist. Smaller companies could bring IAQ up for a question and answer session during a company meeting.

Developing an IAQ profile or "picture" of your building conditions (reviewing construction and operating records and physically inspecting the building) helps reveal potential problems and identify areas that need special attention.

The expense and effort required to prevent most IAQ situations is much less than that required to resolve problems after they develop. Many excellent publications are available to help you in developing a sound IAQ policy and procedure for your firm. Please call me at 631-1010 so I can share them with you.



Ann Kahn


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