WHAT IS INDOOR AIR QUALITY?
A healthy indoor environment is one in which the surroundings contribute to productivity, comfort and a sense of health and well being. The qualities of good indoor air include:
- Introduction and distribution of adequate ventilation air.
- Control of airborne contaminants.
- Maintenance of acceptable temperature and relative humidity.
- Poor indoor air quality can cause problems and have serious consequences such as:
- Increasing health problems such as cough, eye irritation, headache, and allergic reactions.
- Reduced productivity due to discomfort & stress and increased absenteeism.
- Accelerated deterioration of furnishings and equipment.
- Strained relations between employees and employers or household inhabitants.
WHY SHOULD I BE CONCERNED WITH INDOOR AIR QUALITY?
For many years health authorities and governmental agencies have raised our awareness to the dangers of outdoor air pollution and have concentrated their efforts on finding ways to reduce pollutants generated by automobiles, factories, construction and mining. Over the past two decades scientist have been carefully examining the indoor air environment of our offices, factories and homes and they have found this environment to be even more hazardous to our health than outdoor air.
Indoor air contaminants can originate within the building or be drawn in from outdoors. Particulate matter can come from far away places like blowing desert sands & volcanic eruptions or from nearby sources such as pollinating trees, industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, cleaning chemicals & pesticides. If these contaminant sources are not controlled, IAQ problems can arise. Statistics show that 1 out of 5 (50 million) Americans suffer from allergies caused by substances found in the home and office. Deaths related to asthma have risen 40% in the past two decades.
HOW YOUR OFFICE CAN MAKE YOU SICK!
When grouped together in a poorly ventilated area, office machines, furnishings and even the seemingly innocent supplies in your desk drawer can emit a combination of pollutants strong enough to make your head ache, eyes water and throat itch. Here are some prime office offenders and their possible effects:
- Copying machines and electrical equipment
- Cleaning supplies such as floor wax, carpet deodorizers and air fresheners
- Cigarette smoke, new carpeting & furnishings, insulation and window coverings
- Poorly maintained heating and cooling systems
- Microbes such as mold and fungi
Prolonged exposure to dirty air can needlessly plague workers with skin irritations, respiratory problems and other chronic ailments. Radon or asbestos entering through cracked foundations or broken ceiling tiles can lead to cancer and other life threatening diseases. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who live in modern buildings come down with respiratory infections 45 percent more often than people in older structures.
IS MY BUILDING MAKING ME SICK?
The extent of sick-building syndrome and the degree to which offices are affected can be difficult to pin down. Doctors haven’t determined what concentration of office pollutants is necessary to cause illness or exactly how they make people sick. Symptoms such as headaches, weariness, nausea, malaise, sneezing, wheezing and rashes may be brought on by chemicals in cleaning supplies, insecticides, and even high concentrations of molds & bacteria caused by standing water or they could simply be signs of flu, allergies or depression.
More frequently the victims make the connection between workplace illnesses themselves, following a gradual accumulation of evidence and doctor bills. Once workers establish a possible link it may take several months of complaining before administrators acknowledge that there may indeed be a problem. Many workers worry that they will be branded troublemakers for pushing the clean air issue and feel that company management will think it’s just a lot of hysterics.
WHAT CAN I DO?
In most cases where indoor air quality is suspected of causing worker’s health related problems management is often turned around by hard evidence. The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health in Boston suggests polling your colleagues to get an idea of how many have similar complaints. Naturally, there will always be a few people unhappy about their work environment. But if you start getting 30, 40 or 50 percent of the people who work in the same area having problems, then you have an unusual situation.
A doctor’s diagnosis will bolster your case, as will daily logs kept by everyone who has symptoms. Indoor air quality in a large building is the product of multiple influences, and attempts to bring problems under control do not always produce the expected result. Some indoor air quality problems are complex and may require the assistance of outside professionals. In-house investigations by non-professionals are not recommended in most cases.