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3 Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Follow these tips to improve IAQ

By Ashley Beebe, Contributing Writer  

The quality of air in buildings in which we work, live, go to school and conduct business is important — not only for comfort — but for health as well.? 

Poor indoor air quality has been known to cause headaches, fatigue, irritation, and certain diseases, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It's important to be aware of the causes of poor indoor air quality so facility managers can improve conditions and prevent symptoms.? 

Paula Spiese, principal of Sustainable Workplace Solutions, says one cause of poor indoor air quality is inadequate ventilation.? 

“Inadequate ventilation is a primary concern for indoor air quality, as it leads to insufficient fresh outdoor air entering the building, which is necessary to dilute and remove indoor pollutants,” she says. “However, this challenge is compounded in urban areas or locations with significant outdoor pollution (e.g., from traffic emissions or industrial activities). In such environments, simply increasing ventilation without considering the quality of the incoming air can inadvertently introduce additional pollutants indoors.” 

In order to help improve inadequate ventilation, Spiese says facility managers should implement smart ventilation strategies that increase the flow of fresh air into the building while also taking into account the quality of the outdoor air. This may involve using air quality monitoring systems to adjust ventilation rates.? 

Advanced filtration systems, like HEPA filters in the HVAC system, can also clean the incoming air of pollutants.? 

“This ensures that when fresh air is brought in to dilute indoor pollutants, it does not introduce new pollutants from outside,” Spiese says.? 

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The second cause of poor indoor air quality is indoor pollutants, Spiese says. They can originate from a variety of sources within buildings and can off-gas into the indoor environment. Indoor pollutant sources can include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paints, adhesives, cleaning chemicals, building materials, emissions from office equipment and more.? 

To avoid this, facility managers can choose low-emission materials and products like low-VOC paints, adhesives and other products and building materials that minimize emissions, she says. Facility managers can also ensure the proper storage and use of chemicals in well-ventilated areas and utilize air purifiers with HEPA filters and activated carbon.? 

The third main cause of poor indoor air quality is mold and microbial growth.? 

“Moisture issues, such as leaks, high humidity, or condensation, can lead to the growth of mold and other microbial hazards like bacteria and viruses, which can release allergens and toxins into the air,” she says.? 

To improve the air quality, facility managers should maintain indoor humidity levels that are comfortable and also inhibit mold growth, which can be achieved through the use of dehumidifiers and air conditioners, says Spiese. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends humidity levels between 30 percent and 50 percent.? 

Buildings also must be inspected regularly for signs of water leaks or damage, and issues must be addressed promptly to prevent the conditions that allow mold to thrive.? 

Regularly cleaning and disinfecting high-moisture areas can also help, as well as seeking professional remediation for existing mold contamination to ensure safe and effective removal.? 

Facility managers should ensure that the building's exterior drainage systems are functioning correctly to prevent water accumulation around the foundation, which can lead to moisture problems indoors, thus impacting the air quality, says Spiese. 

Ashley Beebe is a freelance writer for Advantage Informatics. 

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  posted on 5/10/2024   Article Use Policy

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