3 FM quick reads on chemicals
1. Chemical toxins can hurt IAQ
Today's tip is to be aware of chemical toxins in a building's air supply. The sustainability movement among facilities addresses these issues head-on by encouraging building materials with few or no volatile organic compounds, proper procedures during construction and retrofits to protect indoor air quality, and the elimination of chemical products.
While the EPA is supposed to track the toxicity of materials, it wasn't founded until the 1970s, and many buildings are older than that. Also, we introduce almost 2,000 new synthetic chemicals each year, far more than the EPA can test.
What can you do? Bring in an expert to conduct a thorough materials audit. Make decisions about the chemicals you allow in your facilities. Many excellent websites provide free information on alternative building products for sustainable buildings, so get educated.
During a retrofit, how often do you review building-materials sources and toxicity tests? Manufacturers often perform material-safety tests in controlled laboratory settings. Dig a little deeper into materials' contents to be sure you are protecting occupants and visitors from chemical exposure.
Also, are workers who perform retrofits sealing HVAC systems to prevent toxic substances from infiltrating the occupied space? The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system offers one point for this critical, long-term health measure, but it is not a prerequisite. Take the initiative, and stay involved to ensure the work gets done.
Simply paying attention to a product's durability isn't necessarily the best route, either. New materials are usually durable because they contain more adhesives and chemically complex bonds. They are less likely to disintegrate or degrade over time, but maybe it's better to wear out and be replaced than to allow the harmful chemicals to remain in the building longer. Modular components can address this issue, allowing workers to replace just a small, worn-out portion of a larger system.
In federal buildings, 50 incidents of blindness, second-degree burns, and severe respiratory diseases occur every year due to mishandling chemicals. Do you have a risk-management plan that anticipates and tries to prevent such situations?
If mold is an issue, avoid it by providing proper heating and sufficient airflow, as well as sealing leaks, rather than using harsh remediating procedures after the fact.
Protect IAQ While Managing Pests
As winter temperatures start moderating into spring, the creepy crawlies and other pests might start making their presence more known, bringing the issue of how to deal with them without negatively impacting indoor air quality with noxious fumes and toxic chemicals.
One strategy to employ is to perform pesticide activities during unoccupied hours. It's better to apply chemicals on weekends or holidays and air our the facility as much as possible with open windows or by operating the HVAC system to dilute irritants in the air.
Better still, establish an integrated pest management program. You may be able to reduce the pesticide application rate at your facility by instituting integrated pest management.
This approach to pest management features minimum pesticide application rates coupled with the use of traps, reduction of pest habitats — for example, by removing debris, improving sanitation, sealing cracks and other points of entry and controlling sources of moisture.
But as using chemicals and pesticides is at times unavoidable, be sure to establish a written schedule, and keep a compliance history of when, how and how much various chemicals and pesticides were applied to specific areas of the facility. This will help create a paper trail should an IAQ problem arise.
IAQ and Chemicals
Being able to provide for good indoor air quality in a facility means arming yourself with detailed information on all the products that might impact the air quality within the facility. It is important to request material safety data sheets (MSDS) on all products that may outgas chemicals.
An MSDS will provide general information on the product, list hazardous ingredients, and cite the effects of overexposure to the chemicals. It will also outline appropriate emergency and first aid procedures, provide fire and explosion data, physical data and reactivity data. Lastly it will provide spill, leak, maintenance or repair and disposal procedures; routine handling precautions and special precautions.
Another step in properly managing chemicals for good indoor air quality deals with their storage. The fumes given off by various solvents can be toxic, and the dangers increase as various chemicals mix. To minimize risk, be sure to always follow the directions listed on the container, store the chemicals appropriately. And never ever mix different cleaning solvents.