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Indoor Air Quality

by schmidy last modified May 22, 2012 10:08 AM

Indoor air quality (IAQ) recently has been the subject of much interest. There is some evidence that the quality of the indoor environment can have an effect on the health of building occupants. Although serious health problems related to IAQ are rare, the perception of endangered health is increasingly common among building occupants. It is important to know that the causes and consequences of poor IAQ are a long way from being completely understood.

The most common origins of IAQ problems arise from a variety of sources inside and outside the building. Airborne chemicals, bacteria, fungi, pollen, dust, and vehicle exhaust can all contribute to the problem, as well as non-air quality factors such as temperature, humidity, lighting, noise, personal and work-related stress, and pre-existing health conditions. Other episodic problems encountered at UofL include sewer odors entering buildings or dry traps in floor drains, and a vomit-like odor associated with leaks from the chilled water system.

A typical investigation of an indoor air quality complaint often begins with a call to the Physical Plant. Maintenance can investigate and remedy straightforward issues such as incorrectly set or inoperative thermostats, malfunctioning fans, odors from dry floor drains or transient odors from maintenance activities. If the problem is caused by a more complex situation, such as inadequate ventilation or excessive mold, then the problem may require a more detailed investigation. This may involve an Industrial Hygiene Specialist from DEHS and/or an upper level maintenance representative from the Physical Plant. Sometimes the remedy involves an extensive project and may be delayed by the need for non-routine sources of funding. Some actions building occupants can take to help maintain good indoor air quality are as follows:

  • Report poor indoor environment conditions (e.g. stuffy air, heat or cooling problems, annoying odors, etc.) to the Physical Plant Work Control Office at 852-6241.
  • Report water intrusion into buildings as soon as possible to Physical Plant. The longer building materials remain damp the more likely the potential for excessive microbial growth.
  • Limit the use of products that produce odors or volatile solvents to specifically designed rooms, preferably with local exhaust ventilation. This also applies to equipment that generates excessive heat or produces odors.
  • Have carpeting in office and work areas vacuumed and cleaned frequently.
  • Minimize generation of dust or aerosols in the work area.
  • Add water to floor and other drains not used frequently to prevent sewer odors from entering the building.
  • Maintain good housekeeping in work areas and break areas. Throw away garbage and old food and clean up spills promptly.

If you have a persistent indoor air quality problem or have questions about an indoor air quality issue, contact Industrial Hygiene Manager.

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