The quality of the indoor environment profoundly affects the health and productivity of building occupants. Air quality and lighting levels, off-gassing of chemicals from building materials, the growth of molds and bacteria, and temperature extremes have all been shown to negatively affect human performance and health. Moreover, these negative impacts can lead to increased costs and higher energy expenses for building owners and managers.
IEQ is a critical component of the design and management of sustainable buildings. The quality of IEQ has been shown to increase employee and tenant satisfaction, improve facility performance, and decrease energy expenses. It is also a measurable and quantifiable factor that can be used to measure the impact of a building’s sustainability program.
In this article, you will learn about the different types of contaminants that could affect Indoor Environmental Quality and the problems they can cause.
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome and Building-Related Illness
Various contaminants, including radon, asbestos, lead, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, mold, and bacteria, are found in most commercial and industrial buildings, causing a wide range of symptoms that can negatively impact the productivity and well-being of building occupants. Studies have shown that over half of all illness in the United States is aggravated or caused by pollutants in the indoor environment.
VOCs, Organic Contaminants and Pesticides
Many organic compounds are released into the indoor environment due to industrial manufacturing processes, combustion, and other sources. Some of these organic compounds are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), others may be particulate organic materials (POMs), and some are halogenated.
Many of these VOCs are absorbed by the skin and inhaled, affecting the central nervous system and causing eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidneys, and lung function. Some of these chemicals are also known to cause cancer.
Mold and Fungus
Mold is a common and costly problem in buildings. It is usually caused by the presence of a moisture-based problem, such as standing water, damp or wet surfaces, or poorly maintained HVAC systems. Fortunately, controlling the relative humidity level can greatly reduce the onset of mold growth.
Exposure to fungus has become a major health concern in residential and workplace environments. Several types of fungus can grow inside buildings and eat whatever they can find, including paints and other materials. They can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal problems in people with compromised immune systems.
In some cases, occupants may develop symptoms related to their exposure to fungi, such as asthma, bronchitis, or allergic rhinitis. In such cases, it is essential to investigate and treat the source of the problem.
Asbestos is another toxic material that can be present in the indoor environment and is found in various materials, particularly those exposed to fire or water. Asbestos is a potential health risk and should be treated as soon as it is discovered in a building.