In the last 35 years there have been many concerns raised about air quality in indoor office areas.These concerns increased substantially when energy conservation measures were implemented, which sealed the buildings more tightly and cut down on the amount of fresh outside air being circulated. Although most of the concern originally focused on the workplace, many people are also looking for answers to health and comfort problems occurring in their homes.
What are the Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
The health-related concerns reported by workers in most of these spaces relate to eyes, nose and throat and include headaches, sinus congestion, fatigue and irritatioin of the eyes, nose and throat. These symptoms are typical of common colds, flu or allegies and usually are not specific enough to pinpoint any one cause. Good indoor air quality promotes a healthy and comfortable work environment for most of the workers. Some examples of poor indoor air quality include:
- Stale or stuffy air
- Temperature extremes
- Lingering odours
- Dryness or dampness
- Lack of air movement
- Excessive dust or allergens
- Mould or mildew problems
Other potential problems which are not as obvious as those listed above but require a more scientific analysis by an investigator include:
- Naturally occurring radon gas
- Organic chemical compounds (including pesticides, herbicides, dry cleaning and veterinary chemicals)
- Asbestos (Building materials)
- Carcinogens (Laboratory chemicals and cigarette smoke)
- Combustion gases from parkades and appliances
- Dust (Silica, lead and other heavy metals)
What is the Cause of Indoor Air Pollution?
- Inadequate fresh air from outside
- Poor temperature control
- Inadequate filtration of supply air
- Poor air distribution to the various areas of the facility
- Poor maintenance and operation of the mechanical systems / Interior building changes
- Renovations to the space involving new carpets, insulation, glues and paints
- Malfunction of equipment ie. humidifiers, supply air etc. and poor mechanical design of mechanical systems
Symptoms of Indoor Air Quality Problems
- Symptoms are in most cases are usually transient. They worsen as the workday progresses. In addition, symptoms generally improve after the workers leave the building
- They may consist of headache, fatigue, sinus problems, itching and irritation of eyes and/or nose, burning and /or watery eyes, dry or irritated throat, nausea, dizziness, abnormal tastes, drowsiness and odour smells
- Allergic reactions. Eg. chest congestion, bronchitis, asthma attack, throat irritation, coughing
Workers with allergies are usually more sensitive to indoor air quality.
- Specific micro-organisms may cause legionnaire’s disease, Pontiac fever, hypersensitivity, pneumonitis, digestive disorders, chronic pulmonary disease, cancer
- Dermatitis - dryness of the skin, erythema (reddening) of the skin, skin rash
Can Poor IAQ Cause Serioius Health Problems?
Most indoor air quality problems cause discomfort, but do not result in serious health problems. Not everyone reacts the same to IAQ problems. A number of people who experience symptoms find that they feel much better once they have left the area. The following contaminants may cause serious health problems or disease
- Asbestos from deteriorated insulation
- Environmental tobacco smoke
- Lead and other heavy metal dusts
- Hydrocarbon and chlorinated solvents/vapours
- High concentrations of combustion gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides
- Microbial contaminants
- Radon or other naturally occurring radioactive materials
Beware of Scams
The field of indoor air quality Investigation and remediation is relatively new. This has caused many opportunists to emerge to profit from your lack of knowledge and your desire for a healthy environment. Always ensure that you contact a reputable contractor or a professional hygiene consultant to deal with more complex IAQ issues. Make sure to check references and indoor air quality experience.
For more on how to protect your employees from poor indoor air quality, check out Indoor Air Quality: The Invisible Hazard in Every Workplace.