We all know that air pollution is bad for our health. In fact the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified air pollution as a carcinogen that kills more than 7 million people annually around the globe. But did you know that indoor air quality (IAQ) can be 2-5 times worse than air outdoors and in extreme cases 100 times worse? Your employees are spending 40 or more hours in your building(s) each week. Is the air they, and you, are breathing making them sick and less productive? Is your office’s indoor air quality hurting your bottom line?
What is Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)?
Indoor air quality is just that, the quality of the air that you are breathing each and every one of your 23,000 daily inhalations and exhalations while indoors. It is a measure of whether or not the indoor air is free of dust, pollen, volatile organic compounds (VOC), formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, radon or mold. These issues are created by materials being brought into the building that give off particulates or gases, such as smoke, cleaning chemicals and some paints; or by having insufficient ventilation and filtration of outside air, as is the case with radon, mold and sometimes carbon monoxide.
The impact of poor indoor air quality is sometimes felt immediately as in the approximate 430 annual carbon monoxide related deaths. Or it may occur over time with little short term impact. In the United States radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer and is the source of at least 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually. OSHA reports that an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 annual cancer deaths are attributed to exposure to workplace chemicals. Asthma rates have greatly increased in recent years and are now the sixth leading chronic condition in the U.S. and the most prevalent chronic illness in children. Much of this can be attributed to air pollution and poor indoor air quality.
Poor indoor air quality may also be reflected in your business’s bottom line. Sick days in the U.S. cost employers over $200 billion annually in lost productivity.
How to Fix Indoor Air Quality
The first step to improving indoor air quality is to have a building performance assessment or energy audit conducted at your business or home by a qualified energy auditor. A performance assessment and energy audit should always be about more than just electric and gas usage, they should also include health ans safety checks. Qualified energy auditors are able to identify areas where air is infiltrating from the outside and also if too little outside air is coming into the building and trapping stale air inside. The qualified auditor will also test to ensure there is proper ventilation in bathrooms to reduce humidity levels and the probability of mold growth. Under many circumstances, your building should be tested for radon. This test generally takes either 2 or 90 days depending on the specific type of test conducted and will identify whether or not additional measures are required. One of the quickest and most inexpensive ways to improve indoor air quality is changing or cleaning HVAC filters regularly. This should be on the maintenance staff’s regular work plan and included in routine home maintenance (monthly at a minimum, in most instances). In some cases the addition of air filters or purifiers to clean incoming outdoor air is also warranted. Finally, eliminate the sources of air pollution being brought into the building by buying low or no VOC paints, finishes, pesticides, cleaning and printing products and not smoking inside or within 25 feet of the building at the exterior. These steps will help keep indoor air cleaner. Being proactive will help improve the quality of the indoor air you, your employees and your family breathe which can improve people’s health and your bottom line.
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