The Importance Of Indoor Air Quality
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is an important health concern, because most Canadians spend up to 90% of their time indoors. We can be exposed to a variety of indoor air contaminants from how we heat our indoor spaces, to the products that we buy, and from the way we choose to live our lives. However, some people are very sensitive to IAQ and can become ill from poor air quality. People with asthma or other respiratory illnesses can suffer tremendously from poor IAQ.
PEOPLE ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE
The building you work in is another indoor environment that can have air quality problems. Indoor air quality (IAQ) at the office or workplace is subject to much of the same IAQ problems at home. Building materials, carpets, cleaning products, tobacco smoke and ventilation share the same IAQ challenges as the home. However, some IAQ problems such as scents and fragrances, automobile exhaust, cleaning solvents, and manufacturing activities can be more common at the workplace.
AIR QUALITY AT HOME
Your home should be a safe and comforting place, not a potential source of illness. We spend up to 90% of our time indoors and poor indoor air quality (IAQ) at home can be a real problem in both new and older homes. New carpet, fabrics, and building materials can be sources of IAQ contaminants. Older homes often have a build up of dust, mould, and moisture problems that can cause sickness or exacerbate respiratory illnesses and allergies.
Poor IAQ problems at home can be a result of a number of common and unsuspected sources. Tobacco smoke, oil furnaces, wood stoves, gas stoves and ovens, and cleaning solvents are the usual suspects for releasing harmful pollutants in the air at home. But don’t forget about moisture, fabrics and building materials, dust, plants, and even the family pet (sorry Rover) as potential sources of IAQ problems. Check out the common IAQ problems in each of the rooms listed below.
In the kitchen…
The kitchen is the most versatile room in our home – where we cook, clean, wash, work and store products. Here are some examples of IAQ problems in the kitchen:
- Moisture in the kitchen can be a source of mold and odors
- Gas stoves or ovens release carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides
- Pressed wood cupboards contain formaldehyde and can cause illness or irritation
- Cleaning products often contain harsh chemicals that can be inhaled
In the living room…
We spend a lot of time in the living room! Too much TV can be bad for your lungs as well as your waistline, if you have an IAQ problem in the living room. Here are some examples of IAQ problems in the living room:
- New carpets can be a source of formaldehyde
- Old carpets are a major source of dust, mold, and allergens, such as pet dander
- Candles and incense can release lead and volatile organic compounds, including particulate matter (PM)
- Smoking in the living room releases many chemicals and gases that get trapped in the carpet, drapes, and furniture
In the bathroom…
The bathroom is another multi-purpose room that can have a number of poor IAQ sources. The next time you talk to your rubber ducky, have a look for some of these common IAQ problems in your bathroom:
- Moisture and humidity from the shower can lead to mold
- Chemical aerosols from personal care products and air fresheners are easily inhaled
- Many potentially harmful cleaning products are kept under the sink – check the labels!
In the garage…
We may not think of the garage as ‘indoors’, but there are potentially serious IAQ contaminants lurking behind the family car and dad’s golf clubs. Here are some examples of what we may be breathing in from the garage:
- Car exhaust contains a host of chemicals and gases that can get into the house
- Leaky gasoline containers can produce intoxicating or nauseating fumes
- Improper storage of old paint cans or pesticides can release toxins and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)
In the basement…
Don’t forget about the air underneath the stairs. Some common IAQ problems in the basement can include:
- Oil and gas furnaces can release carbon monoxide, if not properly maintained
- Wood stoves can be a source of particulate matter, especially dust and soot
- Stored paint cans and solvents are a prime source of VOC’s
- Cracked foundations can lead to a build up of radon in some homes
- Leaky foundations can lead to mold and other biological contaminants
The good news is that you CAN DO something right now to improve the IAQ in your home.
AIR QUALITY AT THE WORKPLACE
As an employee, your health may be at risk from poor IAQ at work. Poor IAQ can exacerbate allergies and asthma, cause eye, nose and throat irritation, or can result in fatigue, nausea or illness. The health effects of these symptoms can lead to poor work performance and productivity, as well as your own well being. In the long-term, these symptoms could also lead to sickness, missed work and loss of income.
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. Poor IAQ can impact the health of your employees and result in increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and potential safety hazards. Increased health claims from IAQ related impacts or illnesses can be avoided. Talk to your employees today about their air quality concerns.
Some examples of IAQ problems in the workplace.
In the Office
- Pressed-wood office furniture and carpet can be a source of formaldehyde
- Poor ventilation can exacerbate asthma and allergies
- Exposure to tobacco smoke is a proven health risk for everyone and can be a serious health threat to employees with asthma
- Personal care and cleaning products often contain many volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and chemical compounds
At the factory
- Open doors around the loading dock allows engine emissions inside the workplace
- Emissions from gas and propane forklifts can cause nausea, fatigue and illness
- Manufacturing often requires chemicals and solvents in the production process
- Cleaning products used for some industrial activities can be quite harsh or toxic
The good news is that you can do something right now to improve the IAQ at your workplace.