The MARCOM Group, Ltd.

Dealing with Indoor Air Quality Issues

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Courtesy of The MARCOM Group, Ltd.

 According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) journal, the average American spends about ninety percent of their time indoors. This is why the chances are overwhelming that most of the air you breathe either has entered via your building's ventilation system... or filtered in through doors, windows, or porous wall materials.

Along the way, the air might have picked up any number of things, such as bacteria or paint dust, which you could be inhaling right now.

If you are exposed to contaminated air, even for a short amount of time, it can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Long-term exposure can be blamed for illnesses such as emphysema.

Usually those most affected are people with allergies, asthma, or respiratory disease. Contact-lens wearers may also have difficulties because dust or other airborne particles are likely to get caught under a lens, and cause discomfort.

There are three major factors that affect the quality of the air that you breathe indoors. These include nearby sources of organic and inorganic contamination... the specifications and conditions of the ventilation system... and the activities of the building's occupants.

Some sources of contamination are found both outside and inside the building. For instance, contamination from the outside can be natural (pollen) or man-made (vehicle exhaust). Other pollutants, such as asbestos can, be found inside the building itself. Asbestos was commonly used up through the 1970's, and can release tiny, imperceptible fibers into the air. If these are inhaled, they can cause ailments ranging from the chronic lung inflammation called asbestosis, to lung cancer.

Indoor Air Pollution can also come from a number of more mundane sources.

Left-over food, for example, can spread harmful micro-organisms if not disposed of properly. Soda, coffee, and milk can act as 'growth media,' because bacteria can thrive on them as easily as in a petri dish.

House plants can also cause problems. While live plants can actually absorb some airborne contaminants, dead or dying plants sometimes shed microscopic particles that can cause allergic reactions.

Water, too, can be a source of trouble. Water damage on floors, ceiling tiles, or walls indicates that 'standing water' is somewhere nearby, pooling on a roof or in a crawlspace. These stagnant puddles are perfect breeding grounds for some bacterial species... and if the standing water is near a ventilation shaft, these bacteria will be drawn into the building's air supply.

The second contributing factor to indoor air contamination is the heating, ventilating and air conditioning in your building. If there are any flaws in the design or operation of these, it can affect the quality of air that everyone breathes. Certified technicians in each facility should make regular inspections of these systems, to ensure good quality air.

One deceptive form of contamination comes from humidifiers and air cleaners. They require frequent cleaning and filter replacement, to prevent the spread of collected pollutants back into work areas.

The last area of concern is contamination from a building's occupants. This is the most preventable source of air contamination. By educating the people who work in the building and establishing a plan of action, contamination can be reduced.

One of the most common indoor air quality hazards made by a building's occupants is second-hand smoke. If smoking is allowed indoors, where there is poor ventilation, the number of pollutants in the workplace will increase. Because of the dangers of cigarette smoke, the EPA recommends that every facility have a smoking policy that 'effectively protects non-smokers from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.' As a result, many facilities have created smoking rooms or designated outdoor smoking areas.

In an effort to prevent indoor air contamination, the EPA and NIOSH created an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) standard guide. This contains information on the prevention, identification and correction of IAQ problems.

If there is an air quality problem, it may be a matter for professionals. These could be occupational physicians, industrial hygienists or mechanical engineers. If an investigation is needed, you may be asked to cooperate by filling out a questionnaire regarding symptoms.

In conclusion, always keep in mind that many of these problems are due to people... and can also be solved by them. By working together we can improve the quality of the air we breathe.

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