Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) describes how indoor air can affect a person’s comfort, health and ability to work. Parameters involved include temperature, humidity, lack of fresh air, mold, or exposure to chemicals.
The requirements for good IAQ will include a comfortable indoor temperature and humidity levels, an adequate supply of fresh, outdoor air and control of any pollutants or chemicals inside and outside the building.
When working or living in buildings with poor IAQ, you may notice unpleasant or musty odours, or the building may feel hot and stuffy. There may be complaints of ill health effects that dissipate once someone has left the building for a prolonged period of time. These symptoms may include dry eyes, coughing, sneezing, headaches or fatigue.
There is no specific single test that can test for IAQ problems. Temperature, humidity and air flow should be checked first. Inspection and testing of the ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems should also be performed. A walk through assessment may be conducted to check for odours, water damage, leaks, dirt or pest droppings. Any water leaks and/or standing water require elimination. However alot of the times the issue is not easily seen or smelled, which is the reason we offer laser air sampling.
We offer specific air testing for very specific contaminants such as particulate matter (PM2.5-PM10), air borne chemicals (VOC), formaldehyde (HCHO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and much more.
If you are concerned about your air quality at work, ask your employer to check and clean the ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems and to make sure there is no water damage. If you think that you have symptoms that may be related to IAQ at your work, talk to your doctor to see if they could be caused by indoor air pollution.
Many Canadian jurisdictions do not have specific legislation that deals with indoor air quality issues. In the absence of legislation, the ‘general duty clause’ applies. This clause, common to all Canadian occupational health and safety legislation states that an employer must provide a safe and healthy workplace. Thus, making sure the air is of good quality is the employer’s duty.
Occupants of buildings with poor IAQ report a wide range of health problems which are often called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) or Tight Building Syndrome (TBS), Building-Related Illness (BRI) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS).
The term sick building syndrome (SBS) is used to describe cases in which building occupants experience adverse health effects that are apparently linked to the time they spend in the building. However, no specific illnesses or cause can be identified.
Building-Related Illness (BRI) refers to less frequent (but often more serious) cases of people becoming ill after being in a specific building at a certain time. In these cases, there is usually a similar set of clinical symptoms experienced by the people and a clear cause can often be found upon investigation. Legionnaires Disease is an example of BRI caused by bacteria which can contaminate a building's air conditioning system.
A certain percentage of workers may react to a number of chemicals in indoor air, each of which may occur at very low concentrations. Such reactions are known as multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). Several medical organizations have not recognized multiple chemical sensitivities. However, medical opinion is divided, and further research is needed.
As with any other occupational illness, not all people are affected with the same symptoms or to the same extent. Some people may be more sensitive than others. Some people may be exposed to more contaminants in the building than others and they may experience symptoms earlier than other people. As air quality deteriorates and/or the length of exposure increases, more people tend to be affected and the symptoms tend to be more serious.
It seems possible. Some people may not be sensitive to IAQ problems in the early years of exposure but can become sensitized as exposure continues over time.
When there is a problem with IAQ, people may experience various health conditions that are listed above. Since many of the symptoms are very similar to what we feel like when coming down with a cold or the flu (influenza), it is often difficult to say for sure if indoor air is the cause of the symptoms.
However, it would be prudent to investigate IAQ if people develop these symptoms within a few hours of starting the workday and feel better after leaving the building, or after a weekend or vacation. In addition, if many people report similar symptoms, or if all of the people reporting symptoms work in the same area of a building, air quality should be suspected.