When we go about our daily lives, we are all exposed to a range of health threats.
Driving a vehicle, walking on the side of the road, participating in recreational activities, all mean being exposed to environmental contaminants, part of which carry serious health risks.
Some of the dangers are inevitable. However, there is one that you can manage and avoid. And that is indoor air pollution.
Air Pollution And Health
The average American spends 93% of their life indoors.
That is a lot of time, and unfortunately, it can come with serious health threats.
Did you know there is a health syndrome known as the sick building syndrome?
It is a disorder in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort issues related to the amount of time they spend inside, although no known disease or cause has been reported.
It has a wide range of symptoms, including inflammation of the eyes or mouth, headaches, and dizziness, nausea, exhaustion, troubles concentrating, dry or itchy skin.
It is not a condition that can be diagnosed clinically. The key cause is a lack of ventilation and improper air quality.
What keeps a building comfortable inside?
The answer is the centralized HVAC system.
It works like a network of blood vessels that keeps the temperature and humidity at a consistent level.
However, if the duct system and cooling equipment aren’t cleaned and maintained regularly, the system degrades and does more damage than good. It might end up spread germs from one interconnected room to the next.
Types Of Pollutants In Indoor Air
Indoor pollutants can be placed into two groups: biological and chemical.
Biological contaminants were or are living organisms.
They contribute to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) and are a leading cause of missed workdays as well as doctor and hospital visits.
Biological contaminants have the ability to migrate through the air and are often undetectable. Here are some examples of common biological pollutants found indoors:
- dust mite and cockroach parts;
- infectious agents (bacteria and viruses);
- animal dander (minor scales from fur, feathers, or skin);
They are particularly dangerous to children, the elderly, and people with respiratory difficulties, allergies, or lung diseases.
Chemical pollutants are in majority man-made, resulting from a variety of activities in which hazardous chemicals are used for multiple purposes.
Some of the most common chemical contaminants are:
- Carbon Monoxide
It’s a leading cause of poisoning deaths, found in gas-powered equipment. It can cause sickness and death without warning.
The most common symptoms are headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
- Volatile Organic Compounds
They include paints, varnishes, and waxes, as well as a variety of cleaning and disinfecting cosmetics goods.
Are used to manage roaches, rats, mosquitoes, and other pests.
To the human body, the effects are local, on the eyes, noses, and throats. More serious impacts, such as on the central nervous system and kidneys, as well as cancer risks, are likely.
- Tobacco smoke
The smoke can trigger asthma, respiratory illnesses, and lung cancer, even to those who are around smokers in poorly ventilated rooms.
It is a colorless, odorless gas produced by the decay of uranium and is found naturally in soil, and has an impact on structures built nearby.
Chemical poisoning may have serious health consequences, including acute symptoms and diseases as well as delayed adverse health effects that manifest weeks or months after the exposure.
Asthma And Other Respiratory Illness
There isn’t just one reason why some people get asthma.
Many different elements in the indoor environment can act as triggers and irritate the human body.
Bad indoor air quality can aggravate the symptoms of someone who already has asthma, but it can also contribute to the development of asthma in individuals who are more vulnerable, such as small children.
Long-term exposure can also be dangerous to fully healthy individuals, as their immunity deteriorates and their body becomes more sensitive to the toxic particles.
Mold And Mycotoxins
Mycotoxins are toxic chemical substances produced by specific types of molds.
Typically caused by water damage, mold and mycotoxins can have long-lasting health effects on the human body.
The dampness and mold growth may appear on the building’s visible interior surfaces, such as basements or cramped spaces, or they may be concealed within walls and air conditioning systems.
Mold needs a source of food and water to thrive, just like a weed.
Organic matter such as dust, skin flakes, body oils, and other similar components are the preferred source of food for mold.
To put it simply, the sources are biological contaminants.
It’s a vicious circle, where one health hazard thrives on another one.
85% of commercial buildings in the U.S. have water damage and mold.
Asthma, coughing, wheezing, upper respiratory symptoms, respiratory infections, bronchitis, allergic rhinitis, and eczema are all linked to indoor dampness and mold.
That is a long list of health issues, and that’s why it’s so important to manage and prevent mold from growing in any indoor space.
Indoor Air Quality And Asthma
You might as yourself: How do air quality and allergens affect asthma?
Your airways are already a little inflamed if you have asthma.
External causes, considered triggers, are likely to irritate the lungs even more and exacerbate the symptoms.
Secondhand cigarette smoke and allergens including dust mites, damp, mold, pollen, and pet hair are examples of such triggers.
The dangers don’t end there. Asthma attacks can happen because of cleaning products and disinfectants as well.
Science And Indoor Air Quality
There’s a science to air quality and HVAC maintenance – and it takes a holistic approach to determine the optimal solutions.
It’s important to remember that there isn’t a single answer for every situation.
Buildings must be interpreted and evaluated holistically, with a variety of structures and structural factors interacting to establish the best possible atmosphere for the spaces inside.
Today’s scientists use the term “indoor-outdoor air pollution continuum” to emphasize the importance of not focusing only on indoor air pollution.
Since overall indoor air quality is influenced by both the indoor and outdoor environments, indoor air contaminants management strategies should be tailored considering the above.
The three main mechanisms that enable outdoor air to enter and affect indoor environments are mechanical ventilation, natural ventilation, and infiltration.
Mechanical ventilation is powered by a ventilation fan or air conditioner in a home or a building’s central air conditioning system, which draws in outdoor air.
Natural ventilation is caused by wind flow and happens whenever the building’s doors and windows are opened.
Infiltration is caused by air exchange between indoor and outdoor environments. It occurs through cracks and leaks in the building structure, present mainly in a structure with inadequate sealing.
Science plays a major role when it comes to air purifying.
For example, have you ever heard of Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization?
It is an emerging technology that uses an existing HVAC system as a delivery tool to release ions into the airstream.
These ions seek out and form bonds with particles in the air as they disperse across the area. As a result, particles tend to cluster together in a snowball effect.
The bigger a particle cluster gets, the simpler it is for the system to remove it from the air.
Things You Can Do
Although it can seem complicated, there are four main factors towards better indoor air quality that, when considered together, result in a more ideal indoor climate:
- Substitute – increased ventilation with outdoor air
- Exhale – ensuring that the air in the space is being removed
- Contain – control humidity
- Clean – as needed, through using various filtration options
Behind improved and qualitative indoor air, there is a mix of science, technology, the top equipment, and human capabilities, all that can be performed safely and correctly.
But only under the coordination of leading professionals in the industry.
Contracting For Professional Services
Trained professionals have the tools and knowledge to remove air hazards and improve the quality of an indoor space.
The services vary depending on the needs: controlling the humidity levels, ventilation checks, using air-purifying techniques such as Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization, or Electrostatic air cleaners.
Do your research, talk to an expert and find the best team of specialists in your area.
Your health and everyone’s in the building depend on it.
Remember that excellent air filtration is impossible without an efficient filter.
MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, and it is a rating given to air filters.
Filters with MERV 1 to 4 have a low efficiency of particle capture, MERV 5 to 12 are moderately efficient, while MERV 13 to 16 are highly advanced filters and capture even the small microscopic particles.
One of the most important factors when choosing a professional service is the team’s dedication and expertise in the field.
Take one of our professionals for example. In the lack of the correct sized MERV-13 air filter, he adjusted a different sized one. The result? Happy clients and costs saved, with the same quality of service provided.
Typically, the most efficient way to increase indoor air quality is to remove or reduce individual sources of pollution.
It can be easily done in a home: a well-ventilated gas stove, removing shoes at the door, or frequent cleaning.
But let’s take commercial spaces for example. It is so much harder to prevent air pollution due to the heavy traffic and the sheer number of people transiting every day.
If you are a property manager, know that a pro cleaning company will be able to remove and keep in check the dust, mites, and biological contaminants through regular maintenance, deep cleaning, or disinfection.
But solely cleaning is not enough for a building with a large number of square feet.
You should check the building materials, leaks, possible water damage, air filters and systems, equipment used, and ventilation.
It might sound overwhelming, but do know that a knowledgeable services provider will be able to help you with all of the above.
Indoor air quality is critical not just for tenants’ comfort but also for their wellbeing on the premises.
As a property owner or manager, you know now that you are directly responsible for the conditions offered in your buildings.
There are three types of injuries related to improper indoor air quality:
1. Sick building syndrome
When at least 20% of a building’s inhabitants complain of specific discomforts inside the building, but these symptoms disappear when outside, then you are dealing with the sick building syndrome.
Classic symptoms include:
- tiredness & headaches
- eye strain
- runny nose or sinus infection
- chest tightness or wheezing
- dry skin
- gastrointestinal problems
2. Building-related diseases
It is a clinically diagnosable disease with a straightforward connection to an identifiable source in a building.
Unlike sick building syndrome, the effects of a building-related illness may last long after the affected person has left the building, and might require a lengthy recovery.
Common signs of a building-related illness are:
- tight chest
- fever and chills
- muscle aches
3. Chemicals sensitivity
When a person has a negative reaction to commonly encountered chemicals, they become ultra-sensitive to even low concentrations.
Symptoms of chemical sensitivity include:
- burning skin
- muscle and joint pain
- blurred vision
- memory and attention issues
- respiratory disorders
- gastrointestinal problems
Unfortunately, negligence is the main reason why tenants and workers end up suffering from these symptoms.
Legally, the owner and/or manager of the building are responsible, and in serious cases, lawsuits and compensation might occur.
But the number of sick days, lack of productivity, and the constant feeling of discomfort will drive your tenants away, your workers will not perform, and the business will suffer immensely.
If you want to learn more about the contaminants and how to deal with the situation, keep reading.
At the beginning of this blog post, we talked about the types of contaminants in the air we breathe.
But what is the origin of each one and how do they actually impact us?
1: Dust Mites
Dust mites are microscopic creatures that look like small bugs.
And if they’re not repulsive enough already, know that they feed on skin cells and other dust particles, and their waste products become part of the dust as well.
Despite their small size, they have a major negative impact on indoor air quality, and many people become allergic to their waste.
Their numbers can be reduced through dust removal and humidity control, as their population increases in humid places.
2: Pollen And Mold
Pollen from plants contains a lot of allergens and is one of the most common causes of allergies in the US.
The immune system protects the human body against dangerous intruders such as viruses and bacteria.
The body misidentifies the harmless pollen as a toxic intruder in people with pollen allergies. To combat the pollen, it starts to develop chemicals to fight against foreign particles.
This leads to allergic reactions and asthma.
A mold of various forms, such as black mold, toxic mold, and allergenic mold, can be found all around us and in the air, we breathe.
Molds and mold spores are usually harmless at low levels, but in higher concentrations, they can cause damage, especially among those with allergies, asthma, respiratory problems, or a weakened immune system.
3: Odors And VOCs
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are odor-causing chemical pollutants commonly found in offices and living settings.
They are organic chemicals that readily evaporate into the atmosphere. Many materials used in the office have the ability to emit VOCs.
Mold as well, when it “consumes” its food, the chemical reactions result in carbon dioxide, water, and volatile organic compounds.
Here are some examples of common materials and substances that emit VOCs:
- Sealants and coatings
- Paints and varnishes
- Decorative wall coverings
- Cleaning agents
- Combustion materials and fuels
- Scented air fresheners and other scented products
- Rugs and carpets
To prevent these pollutants, use organic products and materials, and make sure to opt for proper air filters and ventilation.
4: Fumes From Furnishings
Yes, it might come as surprising, but new furnishing emits toxic chemicals like benzene, ethylene glycol, and formaldehyde.
Four of the top ten chemicals released by furniture are classified as acute irritants.
Illnesses, lung cancer, asthma may all be caused developed by the fumes from our furnishing.
Check the certification of the objects you buy and air them out for at least a week before using them.
5: Fumes From Appliances
Gas-based appliances may lead to poor indoor air quality.
Gas stoves are the main pollution factor, together with furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces.
For example, when people cook in kitchens with low ventilation, the air they breathe can be unhealthy.
Carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde, and other hazardous contaminants released by natural gases and propane stoves are dangerous to both people and animals.
The fumes may cause or exacerbate a variety of health issues, including nose and throat irritation, headaches, fatigue, and nausea.
If you use gas-based appliances it is essential to regularly have a trained technician to check for gas leakage and carbon monoxide.
Pesticides are substances used to destroy or monitor insects, rats, bacteria, fungi, and other species, as well as bacteria, fungi, and other organisms. Pesticides are toxic by nature.
Pesticide exposure can lead to a variety of problems:
- irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
- damage to the central nervous system
- increases cancer risk
If used, ventilate the area very well, and try to opt for non-chemical methods of pest control when possible.
7: Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and colorless gas generated by the incomplete combustion of fuels.
Main sources of CO include:
- Kerosene and gas space heaters without a vent
- Chimneys and furnaces that are leaking
- Stoves that run on gas
- Gasoline-powered machinery
- Cigarette smoke
Burning fuels do not result only in CO, but also in particulate matter.
Also known as particle pollution, is a combination of solid particles in the air, mostly resulted from a complex chemical reaction involving dangerous contaminants.
Long-term exposure to particulate matter can cause heart attacks, erratic heartbeats, asthma, and worsening respiratory symptoms, among other things.
Guide To Common Indoor Air Pollutants
Indoor emission sources that emit gases or pollutants in the air are the most known factors leading to poor indoor air quality.
Inadequate ventilation can raise indoor pollutant levels by failing to bring in enough outdoor air and failing to transport indoor air pollutants outside.
High temperatures and humidity may also cause harmful concentrations to rise.
As we mentioned above, the pollutants lead to a series of health issues, common ones including asthma and respiratory-related symptoms.
What’s the best and easiest way to control the dangerous levels?
Find below an interactive guideline:
Controlling pollution sources
Eliminating or reducing individual sources of pollution is usually the most efficient way to enhance indoor air quality.
Changing filters regularly
Filters are used in central heaters and air conditioners to remove dust and other contaminants in the air. Follow the instructions on the box to adjust or clean the filters regularly.
Raising the amount of fresh air carried within helps to minimize pollution by diluting the toxic particles and gases inside.
How To Increase Ventilation
Since opening windows and doors is not always a feasible or safe solution, the most likely option for buildings is to have a great mechanical ventilation system in place.
Keep in mind that many mechanical HVAC systems are no longer completely compatible with newer requirements, so make sure your HVAC system is up to date, and compliant.
The systems need to be maintained regularly.
Dust and debris clog the filters inside. Motors and impellers deteriorate over time.
HVAC systems that aren’t tested and serviced regularly are more likely to cause problems in buildings, such as condensation, dampness, and mold formation.
Talk to a specialist about your current ventilation system, its limits, energy costs, and how you can reach the best results.
Composition Of The Atmosphere
Road traffic, electricity production, agriculture, heating, and certain industrial processes all contribute to human-caused emissions.
Due to these activities, the main contaminants in the composition of the atmosphere are:
- particulate matter (PM)
- nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
- sulfur dioxide (SO2)
- carbon monoxide (CO)
- ozone (O3)
Pollutant Concentration Levels
Pollutant concentration levels, if past a certain level, end up being dangerous to the human body, and in extreme cases, fatal.
The right levels depend on each type of pollutant, either be it biological or chemical.
Unvented or malfunctioning appliances can release higher and sometimes dangerous levels of pollutants indoors.
The levels can also vary across a building, different floors, or rooms.
It is best to talk to a professional, which can measure the levels in your properties and guide on needed actions should any issue arise.
How can you improve the energy conservation in your building?
You should insulate, preserve airflow, change air filters and perform regular maintenance.
A poorly insulated building will lose a lot of conditioned air. Improve the HVAC system’s energy efficiency by trapping all of the air it collects. You can insulate the walls and windows, pipes, ducts, and outlets as potential sources of energy loss.
Keep HVAC units clean and free of dirt, leaves, and dust to improve energy efficiency. Make sure that no furniture is blocking vents or ducts.
Airflow preservation is critical for an AC unit’s efficient operation.
Regularly change air filters
HVAC energy efficiency problems are often caused by clogged air filters.
When a filter becomes clogged, the machinery operates for longer periods of time and consumes more energy. Filters capture dust until it enters the system and causes damage to components.
Dust will accumulate on fan blades and other motor parts when the filter clogs, slowing the machine down and wasting electricity.
Regular maintenance helps to keep your HVAC system running smoothly and effectively, allowing you to save money on electricity.
Your commercial HVAC service company can recommend the right schedule based on your usage.
If you found this interactive guide useful, know that it is the first part of the Air Quality series, centered around HVAC maintenance, and innovating technologies on air filtering and pollution management.
Stay tuned to learn more and make the right decisions for your business, building, and tenants.
And if you are looking for a certified engineering and facility maintenance service provider, Servi-Tek is here to help you.
From needlepoint bi-polar ionization air sterilization systems to UVC Disinfection Lights systems and HVAC maintenance, we are specialized in offering superior and customizable solutions for your commercial buildings.
Get in touch with us to talk to an expert by calling at (866) 454-6185 or use our online contact form, for free.