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The IAQ-Sustainability Connection

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, IAQ and sustainability.

Chemical toxins lurk everywhere in institutional and commercial buildings. These substances can cause cancer, contribute to respiratory illness and failure, and lead to birth defects. They also can affect the quality of our lives, as well as those of future generations.

The sustainability movement within facilities addresses these issues head-on by encouraging the specification of building materials with few or no volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, proper procedures during construction and retrofits to protect indoor air quality, and the elimination of chemical products, says Rasika Savkar, technical consultant at Building Insights, an LLC of Green Building Services Inc., in Portland, Ore.

Unfortunately, IAQ has not risen much on the priority lists of many maintenance and engineering managers. Managers who don't educate themselves and remain vigilant on IAQ are unknowingly undermining occupant health.

If managers think the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an IAQ fail-safe, think again. While the EPA is supposed to track the toxicity of materials, it wasn't founded until the 1970s, and chances are, at least some buildings in any given organization are older than that.

Materials that went into walls, insulation, ductwork and mechanical systems for decades might have contained chemical compounds that weren't on the list as causing cancer or asthma. As a result, many chemicals are in the DNA of buildings. If you care about the serious health risks your facility might pose to occupants and visitors, bring in an expert to conduct a thorough materials audit.

Unfortunately, Savkar says, awareness of compounds contained in facility materials and components has not increased in proportion to the rate of their invention. As a result, these chemicals make it into facilities before they have been properly tested.

What can managers do? Make decisions about the chemicals they allow in their facilities because many of these toxins remain inside the building. The best defense is knowledge.


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