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Freshening the air on indoor pollution.

The World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings may have some form of indoor air pollution (IAP), and the Environmental Protection Agency says that 33 to 50 percent of commercial buildings may have an IAP condition. These statistics indicate that companies should proactively prevent pollution problems through mitigative and diagnostic measures.

According to Robert T. Warren, assistant vice president and safety and environmental consultant for M&M Protection Consultants in Toronto, some IAP conditions stem from ventilation problems caused by energy conservation programs undertaken during the 1970s. "Some of these buildings were sealed to prevent infiltration of untempered, outside air," he said. However, in these sealed buildings, ventilation is often inadequate. Mr. Warren added that synthetic materials used in the construction of some of the newer buildings can also lead to IAP problems.

IAP can also be caused by bioaerosols such as pollen; microbial agents including bacteria, viruses and fungi; chemicals such as formaldehyde (which are released by synthetic building materials, carpeting or process emissions); tobacco smoke, carbon dioxide; and from outside sources including automobiles, trucks and airplanes, said Mr. Warren. "A breakdown of the causes of IAP reveals that 50 percent are related to deficiencies in ventilation systems, which can become breading grounds for bacteria, and that 30 percent are related to air contaminants such as solvent vapors and dust," he said. "Another 10 percent are due to outdoor sources of pollutions such as motor venhicle exhausts, pollen, smoke and construction dusts, and 10 percent of cases have no discernible cause."

The term "sick building syndrome" has been used to describe the symptoms building occupants experience during an IAP episode. "To be a true IAP problem, the poor indoor air quality must be related to the occupants' symptoms," said Mr. Warren. "Also, the symptoms should end when employees leave the office and go home." Typical symptoms include respiratory problems, skin irritations, fatigue, headache, and nausea, all which are more likely to arise in the afternoon due to escalating carbon dioxide levels.

When conducting an investigation of a building's air quality, the first step should be to hold a conference. "The conference should be attended by a representative of the company or the building owner, a person knowledgeable about the operation and maintenance of the building's HVAC system and, if requested by the employees, a person who will represent their concerns," said Mr. Warren. The conferees should use a questionnaire to determine if there are any known IAP problems or employee complaints or symptoms.

The next step is to conduct a walk-through survey of the building in order to verify the information revealed in the questionnaire and to examine the building's condition. Among some of the problems that may be revealed are improper carpet cleaning practices that result in the release of vapors, said Mr. Warren, which can be solved by altering carpet cleaning chemicals. An investigation of the HVAC system may also uncover problems such as the presence of moisture and dirt, poor temperature control and improper air circulation. "The proper operation and maintenance of the HVAC system can eliminate these problems," he said.

A more thorough analysis of the building's air quality may also detect contamination due to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in moldings and adhesives, latex caulk, paint and vinyl rubber, or high levels of formaldehyde emanating from paper products, foam insulation, particle board, hardwood plywood paneling and staypressed fabrics.

The investigation may also reveal excessive quantities of carbon monoxide, which arises from sources such as vehicle exhausts, malfunctioning heating equipment and vents, internal combustion engines, steel production faciliites and tobacco smoke. "Control methods for reducing carbon monoxide levels include properly adjusting vehicle carburetors, remoting of air handling inlets, reducing carbon monoxide emissions, restricting smoking and increasing air flow throughout the building," said Mr. Warren. In some cases, the investigation will fail to reveal an air quality problem. "In that case, the company should set up a more formalized system for reporting worker symptoms on a daily basis and keep regular HVAC logs to see if symptoms are tied into any HVAC problems."

Despite the cases where no problems are found, three major problems identified in indoor air quality investigations are adequate ventilation, chemical contamination and microbiological contamination, said Mr. Warren. "Some general suggestions for improving indoor air quality include ensuring and adequate supply of fresh outdoor air and eliminating or controlling all known and potential sources of both chemical and microbiological contamination."
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Title Annotation:Canadian Risk and Insurance Management Society Conference
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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