Indoor air quality: it takes more than smoking bans

Just because smoking has been banned from workplaces, don’t assume your indoor air quality is fine. According to the EPA, indoor air can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoors. And it can reduce employee productivity. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) has been tied to symptoms like headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Also, some specific diseases have been linked to specific air contaminants or indoor environments, like asthma with damp indoor environments. In addition, some exposures, such as asbestos and radon, do not cause immediate symptoms but can lead to cancer after many years.

There are several common causes of indoor air problems:

The building and HVAC system: Check your air conditioning and heating system for cleanliness and adequate air flow. Also check for water damage which could cause mold. Make sure emissions sources (smoking areas, photocopiers, garages) are not near air intakes.

Personal behavior: Discourage employees from wearing fragrances or use products that contain them. These can bother people with asthma and chemical sensitivities. If you cook with natural gas or sauté with oil, make sure the ventilation hood is clean and strong enough.

Cleaning products and pesticides: Ever coughed after spraying a product on your shower? That’s a sign that it’s bothering your lungs. Switch to fragrance-free green cleaning products. Use ‘integrated pest management practices’ that favor prevention, traps and baits over sprays.

Remodels: There’s the dust of course. But even low-VOC paints can emit chemicals. New carpeting, furniture and cabinets can all off-gas. Buy no-VOC paints, formaldehyde-free wood products and natural fabrics. 

Here are a few resources if you suspect you may have an indoor air quality problem or if you’re planning a remodel:

Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has information on a number of common sources of indoor air pollution.

Indoor Air Quality Guide: Best Practices for Design, Construction and Commissioning from ASHRAE would be a good resource for facility managers as well as those planning to build or remodel.