Yes, Poor Indoor Air Quality Is Bad for Your Health

By Jada Solutions
Published: June 15, 2015
Key Takeaways

Indoor air quality considerations.

Desk jobs might appear to be as safe as can be, but there is a hazard that many office workers face every single workday – and many don't even realize it.


When the air inside an office space is clean, every employee can breathe it in comfortably and have no adverse effects whatsoever. Bad indoor air quality (IAQ), on the other hand, can cause discomfort, adverse health effects, and make it more difficult for workers to get through the day feeling one-hundred-percent.

Clean indoor air isn't as easy to achieve as it seems, however. Energy conservation methods have been a net positive, but implementing them meant sealing buildings more tightly. Limiting the amount of outdoor air flowing into a building made it easier to regulate indoor temperatures, since offices and other facilities would no longer have to keep the heat or air conditioning running almost constantly to combat the cold or hot air coming from outside.


But this reduction in air circulation has had an unfortunate side effect. Without a steady supply of clean air from outside, the indoor environment can become stagnant and accumulate more airborne contaminants.

This is why taking a deep breath of outdoor air is so much more refreshing than breathing in the air inside the office. But it's worse than that, because breathing low quality indoor air can actually make workers sick.

What Is Poor Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor air quality takes into account a number of different factors. Poor IAQ isn't simply one thing, but could be a combination of any of the following:

  • Stale or stuffy air
  • Temperature extremes
  • Lingering odors
  • Dryness or dampness
  • Excessive dust or allergens
  • Mold or mildew

Other air quality issues are less obvious than those listed above and may only be identified with the use of monitoring devices or inspection by a specialist:

  • Naturally occurring radon gas
  • Organic chemical compounds (including pesticides, herbicides, and veterinary chemicals)
  • Asbestos
  • Gases, smoke, and fumes
  • Dusts
  • Silica and fine heavy metal particles

(Find out How to Prevent Combustible Dust Incidents in the Workplace)


What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?

  • Insufficient intake of fresh air from outside
  • Poor temperature control
  • Inadequate air filtration
  • Poor air distribution to the various areas of the facility
  • Poor maintenance of HVAC systems
  • Renovations in the space
  • Poorly functioning equipment

What Are the Health Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality?

People who work in places with poor IAQ report experiencing symptoms that are similar to those associated with colds, flus, and allergies:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat
  • Headaches
  • Sinus congestion
  • Fatigue

In most cases, the symptoms are transient and get better some time after being in a space with better air. Those symptoms do, however, worsen as the workday progresses and exposure to pollutants continues.

Workers with allergies are generally more sensitive to indoor air quality and may experience more severe effects compared to their coworkers.

Can Poor IAQ Cause Serious Health Problems?

While most indoor air quality problems have relatively mild effects, some can result in serious health issues. The following contaminants can cause severe health problems:

  • Asbestos (e.g. from deteriorated insulation)
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Lead dust and other heavy metal particles
  • Vapors from hydrocarbon and chlorinated solvents
  • High concentrations of combustion gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides
  • Microbial contaminants (e.g. Legionnela, which can cause legionnaires' disease)
  • Radon or other naturally occurring radioactive materials

(Learn more about Legionella: The Killer in Your Tap)

Beware of IAQ Scams

The field of indoor air quality Investigation and remediation is relatively new. While many providing these services are qualified experts, opportunists have emerged to profit from employers wishing to ensure a clean and healthy environment in their workplaces.

To avoid getting scammed, always contact a reputable contractor or a professional hygiene consultant to deal with more complex IAQ issues. Make sure to check references before hiring someone. Indoor air quality is a serious matter. Hiring the wrong people to help you clean the air in your facility is not only a waste of money, but could also put your employees' health at risk.

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Written by Jada Solutions

Jada Solutions
JADA Solutions (HSE) Inc. was established in September 2007, as a Health, Safety and Environmental consulting firm, offering specialized services in Hazardous Materials, Indoor Air Quality, Industrial Hygiene and Health & Safety Services to those in Western Canada.

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