Indoor Air Quality Indoor air pollution is a major public health problem that threatens virtually all workers in offices and buildings. Contaminated indoor air occurs when toxic substances combine with inadequate building ventilation, causing health problems such as eye, nose and throat irritation; sinus discomfort; headaches; sneezing and coughing; respiratory infections; and fatigue. insecticides and pesticides. These highly toxic substances What Are the Sources? can rem ain in the air long after being sprayed. The y are Poor indoor air quality can be traced to many sources, known to cause cancer and birth defects and they also including office equipment, furniture, carpeting, and irritate the skin, eyes and lungs. construction materials. In addition, buildings are often designed or renovated without attention to ventilation, Biological Agents resulting in sealed windows, blocked vents and a general Biological agents include bacteria, viruses, fungi, pollen, dust lack of fresh air. mites and other insec ts, animal dander (tiny scales from ha ir, fea the rs, or skin) and m olds. T hey can travel through the air Office Equipment and are often invisible. They are usually inhaled, either alone Elec trical equipm ent such as photo cop iers m ay g ive off or by attaching themselves to particles of dust and then ozo ne, w hich irritates the ey es a nd the res piratory trac t, entering the respiratory system. Two conditions are essential causes headaches, and has been shown to cause adverse to support biological growth--nutrients and moisture. genetic effects. Ink toner in photocopying machines use Bacteria, fungi and molds find nourishment and can flourish ma ny d ang erou s su bsta nce s including me thyl alcoho l, a in improperly maintained air ducts, air conditioners, solvent which can dry the skin, irritate the eyes, nose and humidifiers, air-cleaning filte rs, ca rpets and in improperly throat and cause dizziness or even blindness. ventilated places where moisture is likely to collect, such as Many comm on office supplies are also dangerous, releasing bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and basements. Viruses vapors and dusts that can cause a variety of skin and can be carried indoors by people, while plants, pets and respiratory problems . The se inc lude glue, ru bbe r cem ent, insects are potential sources of pollen, dander, and other inks, carbon paper, carbonless paper, typewriter ribbon, and allergies. Dust mites and other insects can thrive in sofas, correction fluid. stuffed chairs, carpets and bedding. Renovation and New Furnishings When biological agents are allowed to flo urish in poorly maintained ventilation systems, severe health problems can A variety of solvents are used in roofing, painting and result that can be experienced throughout an entire building. renovation work and they can cause skin dryness, Infectious and noninfectious diseases can be caused by the respiratory irritation, and with greater exposure, dizziness or various biological agents. They can make you sneeze, trigger nausea. allergic reactions, cause rashes, watery eyes, hoarseness, Formaldehyde one of the most common pollutants in office coughing, dizziness, lethargy, breathing problems, and buildings, is found in furniture, new carpets, particle board, digestive problems. plywood, and many other products. As it deteriorates, Pe ople w ith asth ma are especially susceptib le to allergic formaldehyde gives off fumes which - even at low levels - problems caused by biological agents. can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory system. Recent studies show that prolonged exposure may also Exhaust and Cigarette Smoke cause cancer. Diesel exhau st, containing carbon dioxide and ca ncer- Custodial and Maintenance Work causing substan ces, c an enter buildings through improperly located air-intake vents or from loading docks. Carbon Chemicals such as ammonia, solvents, paint strippers and dioxide causes headaches, dizziness and nausea, and can cleansers are widely used by custodians and maintenance be tra ced to many sou rces, including boiler gas a nd c igarette workers in the course of their jobs. Many of these smoke. substances can lead to respiratory irritation, chronic lung disease, and eye irritation. Making matters worse, these Th e outs ide environment may be anoth er source of indoor air chemicals can easily spread through the ventilation system, pollution, particularly if toxic vapors or gases from putting everyone in the area at risk. neighboring industrial plants or garbage dumps enter the ventilation system. Two particularly dange rous group s of chem icals are or cooled. The air is passed through a filter, and sent back Ventilation Systems out through the building. But the percentage of fresh air can To eliminate indoor air pollution, there must be a good source be as low as 5-10% and in the recirculated air, germs and of fresh air as well as sufficient air movement. Unfortunately, chemical contaminants multiply, significantly raising the risk ventilation in both new and old buildings is frequently of both irritation and infection. inadequate. Most older buildings do not have a mechanical ventilation system. While some fresh air may enter through To remove fumes and dust from a specific operation, a local doors, windows and cracks, it is often not enough. And exhaust system is used. Examples are the dust control during winter months or when energy conservation measures system in a wood sh op or ventilation hood s in the chem istry are implemented, fresh air may be cut off entirely. lab. But these systems may create as many problems as they solve. They may be weak, allowing pollutants to escape New buildings with sealed win dows present th eir ow n air into the general air supply, or they m ay pull toxic vapors quality problems, relying solely on mechanical ventilation through an area where people breathe. sys tem s to bring outdo or air into the building a nd m ove it to all areas. When the system fails because of contamination, Every g eneral ventilation sys tem con sists of one or more blockage or other problems, air quality may suffer blowers which move the air, ducts which carry the air from dramatically. To save energy, some buildings use ventilation one place to anothe r, and ven ts which distribute it. The ven ts systems which recirculate air that has already been heated ma y be either s upp lying air or rem oving (ex hau sting) it. fresh air gets sucked out of the room before it has Evaluating Your Ventilation System adequately circulated. This is called short-circuiting. It is the Does your workplace have a ventilation system? result of poor engineering design, and is difficult to repair. This is not as odd a question as it may seem. Some buildings Are the vents blocked in any way? do not have ventilating syste ms. Y ou can check to see if Exhaust and supply vents will work only if the air can move yours does by walking around and looking for vents and freely around them. Blockage by walls, partitions, or even ducts. piled up boxes or files, will obstruct the air flow and reduce Is the system on all the time? the ventilation efficiency. Often, the air circulation in a building will stop at 5 P.M. or on Are there any dead spaces in your office? weekends even though people may regularly work late or Dead spaces are those in w hich no air is replaced and in night shifts. In many offices, large duplicating and printing which pollutants will therefore build up. You can check to see jobs are done at night, and machines can produce a high if there are any in your workplace office by lighting a match volume of pollutants. and notic ing how the sm oke m oves. (C aution - be certain You can test whether the system is on by holding a tissue that an open flame is allowed in your workplace and does not near the vent. If it moves, air is being circulated . Do this present a safety hazard.) Inexpensive smoke tubes are also before and after 5 P.M. ava ilable for this purpos e. Is the system continuous or does it go on and off during Do es th e sm oke flow tow ard an e xhaust ve nt o r sim ply the day? stay in one place? Some ventilation systems are on a time cycle. This means If it doesn't move, pollutants too will remain in the air; they tha t the blower will tu rn on and off at reg ular intervals are not being exhausted. The principal reason for dead throughout the day. If your wo rkplace is consta ntly spa ces is poo r placem ent of supply an d ex hau st ve nts. generating air pollutants, such a system may not be giving Do office areas with printing and copying machines have you enough fresh air. The pollutants may accumulate w hile adeq uate air sup ply and exhau st? the system is off. Check the airflow regularly during the day You can find out by counting the vents, determining which to find out if you are getting fresh air continuously. way the air is moving and looking for dead spaces. For some Doe s each room have a vent? machines, general ventilation is insufficient. You will need Walk around and make a listing of the number of vents per extra vents near the source of the fumes emitted. room. Make sure you look on the walls and floors--and Do you have control over your vent system? remem ber, no vents, no air. Some offices make it possible for workers to have control Are th e ven ts supplying o r rem ovin g air? over the ventilation. You may be able to enter the fan room In each room there should always be a supply and an and to turn the blower or fan supplying the air up or down. exhaust vent. This type of ventilation system is called dilution Check with your building maintenance office to see if you can ventilation . Yo u can determine wh ich vents are brin ging air in do this. and which are removing it by holding a tissue at the face of Is there a smoke detector in your ventilation system? the vent. If air is m oving pa st, you will be able to see it. There s hou ld be o ne. It is es sen tial for early signaling of a Are the vents for supply and exhaust right next to each fire. Th e dete cto r should be locate d in the duct ta king the air other? out of the office . When supply and exhaust vents are too close, the clean, You m ay g et heada che s an d be com e m ore s usc eptible to Are the temperature and hum idity adequate? colds, flu, and other infections. When the air is too humid you The importance of a comfortable temperature is obvious. But also feel uncomfortable. Humidity makes a cold room feel com fort also means p roper hum idity, or water in the air. colder and a ho t room feel hotter. When the office air is too dry your nasal passages dry up. without exact measurements, are the following: Indoor Air Pollution Measurements Carbon monoxide--from cigarettes, gas heaters or any In order to determine just how good or bad is the air in your cooking or burning. This is a chemical asphyxiant which robs office, you will have to test it. You may test for your body of needed oxygen and can cause headaches, • the amount of air flow nausea and dizziness. • the amo unt and types of air po llutants Carbon dioxide--from insufficient air exchange. This can • the amount of heat and moisture. also cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness. So me of the se measurements a re easily determined w hile Ozone--from any machine that produces an electric spark, othe rs require spe cialized equ ipment. such as a duplicating machine. This can be a respiratory irritant. For flow measurements you will need an airflow meter, also called a velometer. Thes e are not very ex pensive an d are Sm oke an d du sts--from powders, burning substances, usually able to measure both air coming into a room from the cigarettes. These can cause eye and throat irritation, sup ply vent and a ir going out throug h the exh aus t vent. coughing and, if particularly heavy, lung disease. Smoke tubes, which are available in hardware stores, can Microbes (bacteria, fungi and viruses)--from cooling water also be used. B ut th ese w ill tell you only w here the air is used in the ventilation system. These can cause colds, going and not how much air is being moved. influenza and such infectious diseases as Legionnaires Disease. The readings from a velometer are in cubic feet per minute of air. The nu mb ers sho uld be : Oxides of nitrogen--from high temperature machines, hot plates, cooking gas. These can cause watery eyes and Air co nditioned spac e: 50-75. irritations of the respiratory system. Fixe d work station , general ventilation or sp ot cooling: Mis cellaneou s ch em icals--such as solvents from glues, sitting: 75-125; standing: 100-200 paints and othe r office supplies, or chem icals used in duplicating machines, such as toners, dyers and developers. Intermittent exposure, spot cooling or relief stations: Light heat loads and activity: 1000-2000 Measurements fo r temperature and moisture are easily Moderate heat loads and activity:2000-3000 made. Temperature can be determined by any common High heat loads and activity: 3000-4000 thermometer, but be sure that checks are made on such places as exhaust vents, supply vents, halls and dead Your local health department will usually set required spaces. minimum ventilation standards for office buildings, but these standards vary from state to state. Check with your state, Moisture can be measured by a hydrometer, with the county or city health department to see how your workplace readings in percent relative humidity. The higher the num ber, measures up to the health code, and if there is a violation. the more w ater is in the air and, usually, the more discom fort there will be. But, as noted above, too low a moisture reading Mea surem ent of specific air pollutants usually requires very can also be bad. specialized instruments which may be difficult to obtain. However, some pollutants you may want to look for, even or fungi can grow. How Can Indoor Air Pollution • Isolate machines that release toxic fumes, such as Problems Be Solved? photocop ier. What you can push management to do: • Make sure hazardous work is done only on the • Increase air supply. Clean and maintain the weekends, and inform the union before it begins. ventilation system and open or unblock all sources of • Ensure that people who work with hazardous fresh air. chemicals are protected with adequate ventilation or • Eliminate sources of contamination. Substitute less protective equipment, such as respirators. dangerous chemicals, such as water-based paints, • Provide information about all chemicals in use, as for more toxic substances, such as oil paints. required by the New York State Right-to-Know Law • Clean and dry damp areas or p laces wh ere bacteria and the O ccu pation al Safety and H ealth Administration's Hazard Communication Standard. • Develop recommendations and priorities for improving air quality. • Ma intain tem pera ture w ithin the c om fort zo ne o f 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity within a relative • Write contrac t langu age that w ill protect y our rights humidity of 30 - 60%. to clean air. Your union representative can suggest • Ensure that all local exhaust systems pull polluted sample language and you may also want to use the vapors away from people's breathing area and that ASHRAE standard as a guide. local systems do not com pete with the primary ventilation system. • Co nsider filing a com plaint w ith the N ew York Sta te De partm ent of Labor's D ivision o f Safe ty and Health • Bring in a ventilation engineer to ensure that air or OSHA if you have a well-documented problem movement is sufficient and to recommend remedies and for any problem areas. This investigation can you are n ot m aking an y pro gres s with ma nag em ent. determine if you meet the American Society of You m ay a lso w ant to file a requ est for a Health Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Hazard Evaluation conducted by the National Engineers (ASHRAE) indoor air quality standards, Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. which recommend 20 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of According to law, employers must provide safe, fresh air per person in offices. A simple tool called a healthful workplaces that are free of hazards, velometer is used to take these measurements. including indoor air pollution. (always work with your • Ca rry out any ch ang es a nd im prov em ents union representative when filing a complaint. But recom men ded by the v entilation engineer. don't stop working! Complaints to the Department of Labor, OSHA or DO SH are no substitute for What your union can do: con sistent union ac tion.) • De velop a health a nd s afety com mittee to wo rk to • Find out about legislative activity - and get involved. correct indoor air, and other, problems. While there is no federal or Ne w Y ork State regulation on indoor air pollution, legislation has • Conduct a health survey of the members, looking for been prob lems typ ical of indoor a ir pollution and che ck to proposed and several other states have enacted see if symptoms are linked to the job. indoor air pollution laws. • Investigate your building's ventilation system. Find out what type of ventilation system, if any, is used. (To check the effectiveness of a ventilation system, (Adapte d from : Am erican Lu ng A sso ciation factshee t; hold tissue paper nea r the vents to see if they're Wom en's Oc cup ationa l Hea lth Re sou rce factshee t) working - there should be both a supply and exhaust NYCOSH factsheet produced through a grant from the NY vent in each room. Also check for problems with local State Dept. of La bor, O ccu pation al Safety and H ealth exh aus t sys tem s.) Training and E duc ation G rant P rogram [CO O5 443 ] For more information, see the NYCOSH website at http://www.nycosh.org or contact New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health 116 John St., Suite 604, NY, NY 10038. Tel: 212-227-6440 Fax: 212-227-9854 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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