Indoor air pollution--dubbed the new tobacco--has an immediate impact on occupant health and wellbeing, which translates directly to classroom and workplace production and profits.
Why Indoor Air Quality Matters and What You Should Be Doing About It
Indoor air pollution has a direct impact on occupant performance and business profits.
[...] the risks of poor indoor air quality turn into serious business consequences for building occupants.
[...] businesses in the U.S. lose hundreds of billions of dollars each year due to health-related employee absences, yet even when employees aren’t getting sick, poor indoor air quality decreases office work performance by 6-9%.
Poor air quality controls contribute to the spread of virulent illnesses, such as:
- Chicken Pox, and;
Additionally, mold and mildew can rapidly spread through a facility absent adequate climate and air controls, especially when combined with low-quality custodial services.
Indoor air pollution is one of, if not the primary contributing factors to sick building syndrome--typically accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Watery eyes.
- Shortness of breath.
- Fever, and;
- Digestive problems, ultimately resulting in;
- Long-term health problems, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
While many SBS symptoms are relatively short-term issues for employees, the financial effects of low staff productivity and increased time off can be significant for employers and businesses.
And, if not addressed, in the long-term more serious health problems may develop, including strokes and heart attacks in susceptible individuals.
A survey commissioned by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) in 2016 reported that almost 70 percent of office workers believe poor air quality in their place of work is having a negative effect on their day-to-day output.
Given that we spend an average of 212 days at work, there is a real need to ensure well-maintained air handling systems are operating effectively in all workplaces for the benefit of both employees and employers.
However, a common mistake made by office managers, school faculty, and facility managers is the assumption that an IAQ issue should negatively impact multiple individuals in a space before it is considered a problem--essentially ignoring the levels of sensitivity to mold, dust, and other allergens inherent to each individual.
Mold is ubiquitous, even in indoor environments, so we are seldom in an environment where mold is not present.
Why don’t all of us react?
Some folks react to specific molds while others won’t react at all.
Some molds produce high levels of mycotoxins while others do not.
A large amount of mold can be problematic to some people while a small amount may not affect them at all.
The type of mold, the amount of mold, and the environment in which the mold is growing are all factors influencing a person’s reaction.
IAQ Improvement Strategies
Improving IAQ is a critical component for ensuring long-term occupant health and business success.
The three essential strategies for improving and controlling IAQ are:
- Source control and elimination.
- Air Cleaning, and;
The source of indoor air pollution varies widely depending on the environment, but most commonly consists of:
- The quality of outdoor air.
- The presence of nicotine smoke.
- Chemicals used indoors, including cleaning products, and;
- Toxins transferred inside from outdoors, typically on the bottom of occupant shoes.
Given the quality of the air outdoors is generally outside of the control of the facility or its management, the remainder of primary sources of pollution can be regulated and controlled.
While many states regulate smoking indoors or within a set number of feet from the entrance of a building, the smell clings to users and can contribute to issues with fellow workers, especially those with smoke-related allergies, or the more substantial portion of the population who are averse to the smell of cigarettes.
Singling smokers out may lead to issues with human resources.
However, providing smoking cessation programs for your employees can have a positive impact on your organization's bottom line.
Indoor Chemical Use
Paint, ink toner, and commercial cleaning products are just a few well-documented sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that negatively impact occupant health.
How dangerous are VOCs?
The US Natural Library of Medicine also reports that some VOCs are known carcinogens, while many more are “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens”.
Furthermore, it says: “Long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
Short-term exposure to volatile organic compounds can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reactions, nausea, and memory impairment.”
In most cases, this results from inhaling the VOCs.
Reducing exposure to these can be as simple as storing them while not in use in an unoccupied area of the facility while ensuring adequate ventilation during their use in occupied spaces.
Further, cleaning products certified by a non-profit third-party as green or environmentally-friendly release little to no VOCs, and are considered a superior alternative to conventional cleaning products for the majority of commercial cleaning tasks.
You cannot prevent toxins from entering your building from outside.
You can place high-performance matting throughout your facility, especially in the entryway, to prevent the bulk of the toxins from spreading past a certain point and combine that with regular floor cleaning and care services to remove dirt, allergens, and other particles before they enter the airways.
The importance of high-performance vacuuming services in regards to indoor air pollution and quality cannot be underscored enough.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) conducted a widespread inspection of schools throughout the state and found levels of allergens that exceeded risk thresholds for asthma and allergy symptoms in most buildings.
The allergy and asthma triggers included mold spores, pet allergens and elevated dust mite allergens.
Most were inadvertently transported into the schools by children, teachers and staff.
Floors contained the largest concentrations of allergens due to heavy foot traffic, and carpeted surfaces — common in school auditoriums, offices and libraries — contained higher levels of allergens than hard surface floors.
Clear the Air
Cleaning is excellent before and after regular working hours, but what about while the office is occupied and everyone is bustling about their day?
A combination of high-quality HEPA filters in a well-maintained HVAC system combined with advanced HEPA filters placed around the office floor or on desktops has been shown to significantly reduce airborne particles.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
Intervention studies of air cleaners operating in homes have consistently found statistically significant reductions in indoor exposures to indoor and/or particle number counts with the use of portable air cleaners, whereas levels of allergens in dust were only sometimes affected.
Studies of air cleaners in homes that address gas-phase pollutants are extremely limited, and consistent reductions have not been demonstrated.
Most air cleaner intervention studies have found statistically significant associations between the introduction and use of portable air cleaners in homes and at least one measure or marker of improved health outcomes, although the improvements were typically modest.
Proper ventilation and airflow throughout the facility are the two most important aspects of maintaining a suitable level of indoor air quality.
Despite the presence of outdoor air pollution, it has been well-documented that the quality of indoor air is far worse, so opening a window or door to allow the air inside to circulate out is pragmatic--however, it may not always be possible or feasible, especially in large buildings or during the winter.
Alternatively, centralized air systems have induction fans that pull air from inside a building through a filtration system and then back out through vents.
The additional installation of exhaust fans, such as those commonly found in restrooms, will further aid in the reduction of indoor air pollutants.
Both of these systems must be well-maintained and regularly serviced to ensure their efficient operation.
References & Resources
Indoor air pollution is a significant challenge facing U.S. schools and businesses, costing hundreds of billions of dollars per year in lost productivity and healthcare costs.
Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is a serious problem for generals and non-generals.
It is invisible to a human eye but can easily influence the health and productivity of a workforce.
Studies show that air pollution-related illness results in roughly $150 billion in losses.
Amazingly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that the concentration of pollutants indoors is often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors.
Confronting this challenge requires a three-pronged response, which mandates the use of environmentally-preferable products as well as an investment into installing and maintaining modern ventilation systems.
Central to the success of all of these programs is the presence of a dedicated, highly trained, and well-equipped custodial team.
If you would like further information regarding the benefits of high-performance janitorial services and how it can help improve office and classroom indoor air quality, or if you would like to schedule a free, no-obligation onsite assessment of your facilities' infection prevention and control requirements, contact us today for a free quote!
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