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Blog

Indoor Air Quality as it Applies to Facility Management

Indoor Air Quality

When the term ‘air quality’ is brought up, most people tend to think of pollutants in the outside air. During the hazy days of summer, when the smog is especially noticeable, our concerns about the air we breathe become forefront in our minds. As facility managers, it is important to recognize that the air inside homes, offices, and other buildings can often be more polluted than the air outside.

Indoor air pollution is one of the top 5 threats to our health. Indoor air can be up to ten times more polluted than the air we breathe outside. Senior citizens, children, and women are most at risk for developing issues from exposure to indoor air pollution.

What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?

Poor air quality can be caused by a number of things. Most often, mold, mildew and other biological contaminants are the culprit. These minute particles thrive in warm and damp conditions and lead to allergies, difficulty breathing, and itchy, watery eyes.

Other pollutants include cigarette or fire smoke, radon gas, and volatile organic compounds – otherwise known as VOCs. Volatile organic compounds are defined as chemicals containing carbon that can easily turn into vapor or gas. The concentration of many VOCs are significantly higher indoors than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.

The most common form of VOCs come in man-made materials, as the gases can be released from paints and glues, which are often found in the home and in the workplace. Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in products used in office buildings. Varnishes and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, and degreasing products. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.

Why Does Indoor Air Quality Matter?

While outdoor air quality is an issue to be extremely concerned about, indoor air quality is perhaps even more important. For most adults, the majority of our time is spent indoors, making us much more susceptible to the hidden dangers of poor indoor airborne pollutants. These potential irritants are invisible to the human eye, making them that much more difficult to detect and treat.

Breathing in harmful air can cause allergies, respiratory issues, sore throats, nausea, headaches and lethargy. On top of that, prolonged exposure to these microscopic allergens can lead to heart disease and cancer. Any pre-existing health conditions can be seriously worsened by indoor pollutants. Children, people with asthma, and the elderly may be especially sensitive to indoor pollutants. The health effects of these pollutants may appear years later, after prolonged exposure.

How Can a Facility Manager Encourage Good Air Quality?

There are a variety of ways that facility managers can encourage good air quality in their building. These simple, preventative measures include:

  • Make sure that all products and materials in the building have either a low or nonexistent VOC count. These options are available and will completely cut the risk of VOCs out of the equation.
  • If water damage ever occurs, make sure to take care of the problem immediately. If left to sit over time, mold will have the opportunity to grow – especially if in warmer areas. Mold is the most common cause of bad air quality, so taking care of these issues promptly will make keeping air quality high a lot easier.
  • When possible, use a dehumidifier (or air conditioner during summer months). Because mold thrives in damp conditions, removing excess moisture from the air will help a great deal in preventing mold from growing. An acceptable level of humidity is between thirty to fifty percent.
  • In the case of radon gas, specialized testing must be done to determine if the pollutant is present. If found, there are a variety of treatment options, including applying sealants to using passive and active ventilation in crawlspaces and other infected areas.
  • Dust is another home for pollutants to accumulate in over long periods of time. Consistent, thorough cleaning is vital to preventing various chemicals and allergens from building up.
  • Use natural air fresheners and open windows (if possible) to circulate air throughout the building. Air fresheners in all forms – spray, oil, and solid – can emit volatile organic compounds that can be toxic to a building's air quality and its inhabitants. Flowers or natural air fresheners like sliced lemons and baking soda are a good alternative to chemical-laden commercial products.

Indoor air quality is commonly overlooked. It is important for facility management to take these preventative measures and educates themselves on how to handle pollutants when they exist. By taking the necessary steps and encouraging better air quality indoors, facility managers exemplify their role as leaders and demonstrate their sincere concern for the well-being of their buildings occupants.

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