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Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
April 23, 2020
What is IAQ?
More Than Just Mold!
To most people IAQ i.e. Indoor Air Quality; is just mold. Although mold is often an element of indoor air quality (IAQ) problems, it is certainly not the only situation adversely affecting us in approximately 20 hours a day we spend indoors.
Actually mold is likely one of the lesser IAQ problems. Why? Because most of the molds that are indoors are also outdoors, thus if molds are affecting you, it is likely they affect you both indoors and outdoors. There are some exceptions. If conditions indoors such as dampness, condensation, roof leaks, flooding and leaking plumbing fixtures are creating a condition where mold can grow more readily indoors than outdoors, it may be the quantity of mold that is the problem. A greater mold concentration may just reach a reaction threshold in a person such as coughing, sneezing, eye irritation, or even asthma.
Mycotoxins from Molds
Some molds release mycotoxins as part of their life processes but such chemicals are in such low concentration, it is very unlikely—even remote—that they will affect anyone. The only exceptions are those individuals most sensitive such as the ill, very young, very old, or immune-compromised, such as those taking immune-suppressing medications or undergoing cancer treatment.
Other Indoor Exposures
There are a host of other indoor exposures that may be worse than molds—allergies for example. Many people are allergic to dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, guinea pigs, cockroaches, or dust mites. Even at work, one may have a strong reaction to cat dander on a co-worker’s clothing.
Speaking of dust mites and cockroaches, a percentage of people are allergic to the pesticides used to treat these pests. It is most predictable when someone sees a cockroach at work—in comes the pest control company to spray an insecticide—again and again, and again. Each time it becomes more likely to reach a reaction threshold in more and more workers, occupants, or visitors. The range of symptoms and the damage done to a person’s health are actually more likely from the pesticide than the pest! The best solutions are eliminating the food source (cockroaches) and good thorough housekeeping (dust mites).
Long periods of cold or heat can result in A/C units or heating systems running for extended periods of time with little or no outside air being introduced into the building air. Whatever is in the air is allowed to accumulate—perfumes, cleaning agents, carbon monoxide, dust, copier chemicals, paint, pet dander, second-hand smoke, air fresheners, and even carbon dioxide. Actually carbon dioxide is not really a contaminant—we exhale it—but if it is allowed to accumulate due to heavy occupancy—or a closed HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning) System—it triggers our breathing reflex and if the carbon dioxide is elevated it can cause us to hyperventilate—often the cause of Sick Building Syndrome—resulting in panic and building evacuation – due solely to a Carbon Dioxide build-up. OSHA has set an exposure limit for carbon dioxide (5,000 ppm-8 hours) but this level is for production exposures, not offices. A much lower level of CO2 can cause IAQ problems in an office. Generally, not more than 700 ppm above the outdoor levels.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Other Potential Problems
There are other potential problems too—such as Radon. Radon is a radioactive gas that is one of the final decomposition stages of radioactive uranium. There are certain areas of the country where uranium veins in rock are very near the surface. This radon gas can leak into buildings built on rocky ground and get trapped inside the building. Radon gas causes cancer.
Air quality can be affected by your neighbor—most often in offices and commercial buildings. A good example is an office next to a factory or warehouse. The factory emits its exhausts to the roof and when the wind is right, it gets drawn right back into the office building next door. OR their warehouse trucks and lift trucks emit carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust which is drawn back into the air intake of the office next door. How about the peanut oil from the next door restaurant exhausting to the roof and drawn back into the office where 3 persons are highly allergic to peanuts?
Speaking of peanuts, the air quality in aircraft is poor at best—with many problems of buildings but the added danger of bacteria or viruses from densely packed passengers, narrower seats, less legroom and narrower aisles! Even though air travel increases steadily, we are certainly enjoying it less and fear it more. Studies confirm the increase in disease transmission onboard aircraft.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Solutions
Practically all IAQ problems have solutions, but they vary radically due to sources, conditions, construction, cost, and regulations. Future articles, and other articles already on our website, will address some of the corrective measures available to building owners, managers, facilities engineers, tenants, and homeowners.
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