GCUC Online: Air Quality Session follow up

By Stormy McBride On May 12, 2020 In OtherConferenceSustainabilityFuture of WorkGCUC WebinarsHealth and Well-beingCOVID-19

Your Air Quality Question answered

As promised, we gathered up the unanswered questions from our GCUC Online one of a kind conference event that took place last month. Below are the questions for the Air Quality session.

How can we measure air quality?What should you do if you get turned down for a loan?

Performance Testing organisations can be hired to conduct a series of tests utilising best practice methodology and equipment. This might include PM2.5, PM10, Formaldehyde, VOCs (other than formaldehyde), carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, radon, etc. Water testing for turbidity, coliforms, disinfectants, and various laboratory-based contaminants can also shed light on potentially harmful contaminants in drinking water. -Tori Shepherd, IWBI

Measuring air quality does depend on your concern. Is the concern carbon monoxide, radon, formaldehyde, etc.? You can monitor the area by setting up indoor air monitoring sensors, which would detect the presence of a particular pollutant. Different types of sensors measure different things, i.e., a CO2 meter will only measure carbon monoxide. A company or person, that is a certified air quality expert, could be contacted to come and do air quality measurements. This person would take readings of the indoor air and send the samples to a laboratory, where the samples will be analyzed and results produced. -CIH, CSP, Principal Industrial Hygienist

How do we determine if a building is “sick”?

Performance Testing provides data on indoor environmental quality. This should involve various tests of air quality, water quality, lighting and acoustic parameters to be carried out by a trained professional. These tests can identify potential issues before they create actual human health issues. Performance testing should also be ongoing (ex. minimum annually), because spaces change based on usage and inevitable aging; activity in spaces drive change and introduce new potential hazards (etc, bushfire season, new infectious diseases, introduction of new cleaning products/chemicals, increased occupancy, etc). -Tori Shepherd, IWBI

“Sick building syndrome” (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The term “building related illness” (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants.

The occupants of a sick building will complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort, e.g., headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors. The cause of the symptoms are not known, and most of the symptoms will be relieved after the complainant leaves the building.

BRI illnesses indicators are complaints of symptoms, i.e. cough; chest tightness; fever, chills; and muscle aches. The symptoms can be clinically defined and have clearly identifiable causes. Complainants may require prolonged recovery times after leaving the building. It is possible that complaints may also be the results of other causes, which may include an illness contracted outside the building (allergies), job related stress or dissatisfaction, and other psychosocial factors. Studies do show that symptoms may be caused or exacerbated by indoor air quality problems.

Typically sick buildings have chemical contaminants from indoor sources. Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building. Some examples would be adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, and cleaning agents, which may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. Tobacco smoke contributes to high levels of VOCs, other toxic compounds, and respirable particulate matter.

Outdoor chemical contaminants can also add to the sick building syndrome. Motor vehicle exhausts; plumbing vents; and building exhausts (e.g., bathrooms and kitchens) can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings. It is possible for combustion products to enter a building from a nearby garage.

Also adding to the sick building syndrome can be biological contaminants. Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants. These contaminants may breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans, or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, carpeting or insulation.

A building investigation needs to be completed. The goal of this investigation is to identify and solve indoor air quality (IAQ) complaints in a way that prevents them from recurring. It will be necessary for the investigator(s) to discover whether a complaint is related to indoor air quality, identify the cause of the complaint, and determine the corrective action(s). -CIH, CSP, Principal Industrial Hygienist

What if your landlord won’t upgrade an HVAC system that is clearly very old and past due for replacement?

Check Tenant’s Rights for your state. In Texas, the landlord’s responsibility if to “repair and remedy” any condition that materially affects the physical health and safety of an ordinary tenant. Document each correspondence you have with the landlord. Always confirm telephone conversations with an e-mail. It is a good idea to send your landlord a letter (certified, return receipt requested), stating the issues with your HVAC system. If your landlord does not respond you can then contact your Tenant’s Council. -CIH, CSP, Principal Industrial Hygienist

Address what you can control – change filters regularly, change the mix of fresh to recycled air and consider getting your duct work cleaned. -GCUC

We are wondering how people are planning and preparing for reopening after the lockdowns are lifted. Especially with shared or open desks?

IWBI’s Task Force on Covid-19 and other respiratory infections will be working towards a series of helpful resources over the coming weeks, including this topic (https://www.wellcertified.com/placesmatter). There are numerous aspects to consider, such as flushing water pipes to ensure that stagnant water has not led to bacterial growth, enhanced cleaning protocols, etc. I’ve seen a number of great resources developed so far, such as from CBRE (here) and JLL (here). -Tori Shepherd, IWBI

Preventing yourself, and others, from getting the COVID-19 does not have to be expensive. Make available disinfecting wipes, or sprays, and virus killing hand sanitizers. Encourage everyone to commit to regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces.

The main thing to remember is that you must stay, at least, 6’ away from others. Upon entering the building everyone should be wearing a mask. The mask can be removed once they are in their workspace. Place sanitizer by the front door for everyone to use when entering the building. Sanitizer should be on each desk, in bathrooms and conference rooms. Each person should clean and disinfect their workspace prior to using, and at the end of their day. Clean and disinfect desk, chairs, phone receivers, keypads, remotes, touchscreens, and any items you may have on the desk, i.e., a stapler. Always wash your hands after cleaning and disinfecting.

At the end of the day, everyone should clean and sanitize their workspace, as well as help with common areas. Disinfect all common areas, light switches and door knobs, including the door knob (or handle) of the entryway to the building. Vacuum and/or mop the workspace. -CIH, CSP, Principal Industrial Hygienist

What can actually be done to improve “air quality” in the office space. We hear about the filtering and etc… But truly, how effective this actually is for COVID-19?

To attain good air quality in the office, you need to have a HVAC technician verify that your HVAC system is circulating outside air. Keep air vents open and unblocked. Replace air filters frequently. Replacing filters with a high filtration efficiency are crucial to reduce the risk of diseases transmitted through the air. A good schedule to follow would be to change air filters in March and in November, when the time changes. If there are high allergy sufferers in the office then change the filters every 3 months. Maintaining a healthy level of humidity will help keep out dust mites, mold and other allergens. Humidity should be between 30 – 50%. The HVAC system will help control the humidity, and/or you can use a dehumidifier. Cleanup spills or leaks immediately. Excess moisture or residual dampness supports the growth of mildew and mold. It is more expensive to remediate mold damage than to prevent it. Cleanup leaks or spills as soon as you see them. Office plants are a good idea and will absorb toxins and produce more oxygen. KEEP YOUR OFFICE CLEAN. -CIH, CSP, Principal Industrial Hygienist

I can’t control the outside air but can use different HVAC systems inside, such as a traditional split/RTU system where all inside air is zoned and shared, or a VRV/VRF system that can have the ability to have each office come directly from the outside and thus is not shared. What are your thoughts regarding this more expensive system?

The majority of ventilation standards specify ventilation rates and other measures intended to provide indoor air quality that is merely “acceptable” to building users and that reduces the risk of adverse health effects. Even with proper ventilation designed to meet ventilation standards, the concentration of indoor pollutants can exceed concentrations found in outdoor air. Ventilation rates less than 10 L/s [21 CFM] per person in all building types are associated with negative perception of air quality and actual health outcomes. Unusually high building occupancy, a high risk of accidents that might degrade air quality or limited space capacity to install filtration make exceeding standard ventilation requirements a worthwhile strategy. Scientific research suggests that an airflow rate significantly exceeding that recommended by standards is needed to minimize sick building syndrome symptoms and to improve human performance and productivity. Because it is difficult to test for every potential pollutant, and because carbon dioxide (CO2) is easy to detect, CO2 levels serve as a proxy for other indoor pollutants. A number of CO2 studies suggest that the risk of sick building syndrome symptoms decreases significantly when CO2 concentrations are less than 800 ppm. One method for decreasing the CO2 concentration experienced by occupants while minimizing additional energy use is demand-controlled ventilation, in which the delivery rate for outside air is directly linked to the measured CO2 levels within the space. More information can be found here. -Tori Shepherd, IWBI