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What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?
When we speak of "indoor air quality" (IAQ), we are generally thinking of an office-type environment where ventilation is provided by general dilution exhaust (e.g. windows and/or an HVAC system).
Industrial environments such as printing shops, welding shops, and so forth are generally considered to have some level of contaminants in the air because of the work done in the shop. They usually have industrial ventilation systems such as exhaust hoods, and sometimes general dilution ventilation as well.
What Causes IAQ Problems?
There are many potential causes of IAQ problems. However certain ones are more common, especially in our area of the country:
- Dry sink or floor drain traps (foul-smelling "sewer gas" can back up into the room; to fix, just pour water down the drain every day or two).
- Rotten food left in desk drawers or other forgotten places (don't laugh, this happens a lot!).
- Temperatures too high or low for comfort (lowering temperatures often helps make offices seem less "stuffy").
- Humidity too low for comfort (can cause allergy-like symptoms such as dry, scratchy throat and eyes, tiredness, general malaise.)
- Insufficient lighting or too much glare (can cause malaise, headaches, etc.).
- Too little fresh air being introduced in buildings that use recirculated air (can lead to carbon dioxide buildup, which can make you feel tired or sick).
- Mold or mildew from water damage that is not fixed promptly (can cause allergy problems and some molds actually give off "waste" gases that can cause illness). Report all water damage immediately to Facilities Operations. Remember that it can take several tries to find leaks, especially in roofs; if you see water entering even after the roof is fixed, let Facilities Operations know.
- Fresh air intake located too close to sources of unpleasant odors or other contaminants, such as bathroom exhausts, smoking areas, bus stops, loading docks.
- Too many copying machines in the area.
- Sharing a recirculated air system with an "industrial" operation such as a printing shop.
Reporting IAQ Problems
If you are experiencing a problem that you think may be related to air quality in an App State building, please report it to the Industrial Hygiene Manager. Please print out the IAQ Occupant Survey, and mail or fax it to the Industrial Hygiene Manager.
Solving IAQ problems is often difficult and slow, and your help will be key. It can be very hard to identify the source(s) of the problem. If the source of the problem is not obvious, it takes trial and error and careful observation by building occupants to see what makes the situation better or worse. Sometimes fixing the source of the problem, even if it is obvious, can be time-consuming, expensive, or even impossible.
Beware of Air Cleaners
Some air cleaners use ozone to "clean" the air and give the air a fresh, "after-a-thunderstorm" smell. Ozone does not clean effectively at levels that are safe to breathe; and these low levels of ozone may present a hazard to some people, particularly people with pre-existing lung/breathing problems.
When considering purchasing an air cleaner, be sure to ask if it makes ozone. If it does, consider another type or at least ask if the ozone generator can be turned off while still operating the other cleaners that may be included (such as particulate filters). If you have already purchased an air cleaner that makes ozone, ask the salesperson or manufacturer how to disable the ozone generator.
For more information, see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Ozone Generators That Are Sold As Air Cleaners: An Assessment of Effectiveness and Health Consequences".
House plants have been scientifically proven to improve indoor air quality! Consider adding living plants to your office to help reduce carbon dioxide buildup and other IAQ contaminants.
Want to Learn More?
There are lots of great IAQ websites out there, many with extensive resources for homeowners as well as office workers. Try the EPA's IAQ page for starters.
Beware of any websites that seem to promote a specific product; they may be cleverly disguised advertisements for products that may not help - or can even make things worse.