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Written by Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
February 4, 2020
Poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) at Work
Complaints of poor air quality at work are actually quite common. Even more distressing is that newer, more energy-efficient buildings may be worse than the old leaky, drafty ones. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) inside just about any building whether office, hospital, factory or warehouse is generally worse than outdoors says the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Sick Building Syndrome
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Building Relative Diseases (BRD) are the more common description for such situations where there is no directly identified cause but building occupants are suffering from itchy skin, irritated eyes, sore throats, upper respiratory illness, asthma, lethargy, rashes and feel better once they leave the building.
Skeptics just say “It’s not IAQ, it’s just job stress which can cause any of those symptoms.” However, there is a rash of (bad pun) of chemical and potentially toxic things even in the office that can result in discomfort and illness. Perfumes, aftershave lotions, cleaning chemicals, carbon monoxide from cars, diesel exhaust from trucks, black rubber soot from tires, printing inks, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from paints, varnishes, adhesives, tobacco smoke, mold, bacteria, radon and all other particulate matter from neighbors, factories, roads, nearby construction, cooking, carbon monoxide, and even carbon dioxide. We exhale carbon dioxide, but if allowed to accumulate from a tightly closed building, it can build up to a level our body starts to hyperventilate thinking it is just in our lungs and needs to get out. This is a common cause of “Sick Building Syndrome” where occupants rush out of a building in a panic from dizziness, confusion, and itchiness, with no indication of the cause—(carbon dioxide has no odor). Elevated levels of carbon dioxide are generally due to the lack of outside air.
Some remedy is available through the construction of “Green Buildings” that use low VOC paints, glues, and other construction material. They use natural outdoor air circulation, the sun for heating, vegetation for use of consuming carbon dioxide and production of oxygen, continuous monitoring for carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and heating systems that reduce emissions including particulates.
Indoor Air Quality Preventative Maintenance
These actions coupled with preventive maintenance to keep air handlers free of dirt and moisture, all work to reduce IAQ complaints and make the work environment more tolerable on a day-after-day basis.
The quality for air filtration is steadily improving through the introduction of the MERV filtration rating system. MERV is short for Minimum Efficiency Rating Value set by the well-known ASHRAE organization. A MERV-20 is the highest-rated and densest filter. Most residential HVAC systems have a MERV-5 or MERV-7 (filters mold spores, animal dander, common dust) and MERV-11 (lead dust, auto emission particulates, flour dust, liquid mist). Hospitals generally use MERV-13 to 16 that can trap bacteria and most other particulates—but not viruses. The densest filters are HEPA filters capable of filtering out most particulates but they are so dense, normal heating and A/C systems do not have the power to draw air through such dense filters. The most common filters used in commercial buildings are in the MERV 5 to 7 range, Although “Green Building” programs tend to include the need for more dense filters (MERV 9 or 11).
Please note that such MERV filters will not filter gases (carbon monoxide) or vapors (alcohol, VOC’s, acetone, solvents, etc.). They are only effective in filtering particulates. Other filtration media such as charcoal are needed to filter out gases and vapors.
Need Poor Indoor Air Quality at Work Testing?
Atlantic Environmental has the ability to evaluate the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) at work, perform testing to identify contaminants and develop solutions to resolve identified IAQ problems. Contact us by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone 1-800-344-4414 us use our online form for more information or to schedule a consultation.
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