Indoor Air Quality: It’s Hard to Believe What We Breathe

Since the early 1970’s and the development of buildings that were sealed tight to save energy costs, indoor air quality has become an important concern.  The absence of fresh air and the regurgitation of stale air throughout massive office complexes have generated millions of headaches and more serious concerns.

Poor air quality doesn’t just come from the lack of fresh air.  There are many volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde in constant use in these buildings.  The major sources of formaldehyde are likely to be particleboard, fiberboard, and plywood in furniture and paneling in addition to carpeting and glues.

Other dangerous chemical compounds are released from everyday office items like furniture, paint, adhesives, solvents, upholstery, draperies, carpeting, spray cans, clothing, construction materials, cleaning compounds, deodorizers, copy machine toners, felt-tip markers and pens, and correction fluids.

Microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, molds and fungi are present in the air almost everywhere and may also cause office air pollution.  Fungi and bacteria find nourishment in inadequately maintained humidification and air-circulation systems, and in dirty washrooms.  In 16 major studies, at least 281 cases of illness were traced to humidifier systems, circulation vacuum pumps, blowers, ventilation and duct work, and air filters.

Another known cause of office pollution is asbestos and asbestos products that number in the thousands.  Office buildings are likely to have them in ceiling and floor tiles, and acoustic and thermo insulation.  A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study of ten cities found that almost twenty percent of office buildings contained asbestos in an easily crumbled, more dangerous state.

Unless you work in a sterile office environment with no carpets, drapes or furniture, there is no avoiding a risk to your breathing system.  But there are at least some steps that you can undertake to make your building and workplace safer.

  1. Eliminate Tobacco:  A firm no-smoking policy is the best way to protect the health of all employees.  If that is not currently feasible, smoking should be allowed only in a well-ventilated area reserved exclusively for that purpose, where no non-smoker is required to enter or pass through.

2.      Provide Adequate Ventilation:  Guidelines for office buildings set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers require circulation of a minimum of 140 liters of outside air per minute per person.  Relative humidity should be kept between thirty and sixty percent.

3.      Practice Regular Maintenance:  Clean and disinfect ventilating, heating, or cooling devices and systems, including humidifiers and dehumidifiers, air filters and air circulation pumps and blowers.

For the health of all of employees, remember to pay heed to indoor air quality.   We are what we breathe.

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