Indoor Air Quality and Health

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Annie Oakley Society Event Center in Oklahoma City incorporates a linear metal ceiling system with a walnut woodgrain finish that visually connects the event center’s interior with the museum’s outdoor exhibits and landscape. Photo by David Cobb Photography/courtesy Rockfon

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Annie Oakley Society Event Center in Oklahoma City incorporates a linear metal ceiling system with a walnut woodgrain finish that visually connects the event center’s interior with the museum’s outdoor exhibits and landscape.

On average, Americans spent 90 percent of their time indoors before the pandemic. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “people who are often most susceptible to the adverse effects of pollution (e.g. the very young, older adults, and people with cardiovascular or respiratory disease) tend to spend even more time indoors.”

Good IAQ contributes to healthy, happy, and productive spaces and people. Poor IAQ can have both short-term and long-term impacts on occupant health, such as:

Short-term impacts

• Irritation of eyes, nose, and throat;

• Dizziness;

• Headaches;

• Fatigue; and

• Aggravation of asthma.

Long-term impacts

• Respiratory disease;

• Heart disease;

• Cancer; and

• Bioaccumulation.

Bioaccumulation refers to the compounded effect of poor IAQ over time and the lasting, multiple health impacts. Healthy adults inhale approximately 16,000 times per day. Children have smaller airways and lungs that require faster respiration. The more breaths a person needs, the greater the impact IAQ can have on their lungs and their health. In the U.S., one in 12 children already have compromised lung capacity due to asthma. Asthma is one of the leading causes of student absenteeism for children ages 5 to 17. Poor IAQ exacerbates these issues and the associated short- and long-term educational impacts on students’ lives.

In healthcare facilities, it can be assumed many patients have compromised lung capacity plus other short- and long-term illnesses. Some have infectious diseases and pathogens. Poor IAQ not only can be detrimental to patients’ health, but also affects the medical teams, staff, and visitors.

Whether coming from a medical appointment or dropping children at school, once an office worker arrives at their job, they generally have little control over their interior environment. The top office complaints among employees include the temperature being too hot or too cold, followed by IAQ- and noise-related issues. These IEQ factors directly contribute to employees’ health and well-being.

When people are uncomfortable and feel they have no control over their surroundings, their performance and satisfaction at work also declines. This can result in poor concentration, reduced accuracy, increased irritability, and more absences—all affecting both the employer’s bottom line and the employee’s wellness.

IAQ and pollutant sources

While there are many causes of indoor air pollution, the EPA lists several pollutant sources of concern:

• Combustion sources, including fuel-burning appliances and tobacco products that release harmful byproducts such as carbon monoxide and particulates.

• Cleaning supplies, paints, insecticides, and other commonly used products that introduce different chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), directly into the air.

• Building materials and furnishings, including those that

• Use added flame retardants or antimicrobials

• Degrade and release chemicals or particulates, such as asbestos

• Off-gas chemicals including VOCs

• Substances of natural origin such as radon, pet dander, and mold

• Outdoor pollution sources, including radon and pesticides

The EPA also notes, “Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the area. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.”

To curb these pollutant sources and mitigate their effects:

• Eliminate and control pollutants—specify low- and no-emitting materials;

• Dilute and remove pollutants—ventilations with fresh air exchange; and

• Clean the air—air filters and ionizers.

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