What are the Causes and Solutions to Indoor Air Pollution? | How to Breathe Easy Inside

Breathe Easy Inside: Adios Indoor Air Pollution

As Aussies, we see ourselves as outdoor people, but the truth is, we spend 90% of our time indoors. Given the vast proportion of time we spend inside, indoor air pollution is a serious health concern.  

According to WHO – a shocking 4.3 million people die every year due to indoor air pollution. In many cases – this is avoidable. 

When indoor air quality is substandard, an array of acute and chronic symptoms can arise. Many buildings can be harmful to your health without you ever knowing – here are some ways to get fresh air while you’re inside.

No-Risk Rule

When you’re at work, you want to know the air you breathe is contaminant-free. Clean air should be a given, so you can get on with your job. 

Managing air pollution and the resulting WHS risks in commercial buildings is required under WHS laws. By knowing where pollution hazards originate, you can better identify the level of risk. Test air quality frequently and monitor the air quality index as a starting point. Inviting input from your building occupants is a great way to gain insight into air condition in a building; speak directly to the relevant Health and Safety reps.

Aim to eliminate risk. If this is unachievable, minimise it as much as possible. The hierarchy of control measures ranks risk control methods, but people’s pre-existing conditions also play a part. Asthma and other respiratory diseases may make some more susceptible to air pollutants – as does being older or pregnant.

Types of indoor air pollution

There are two types of sources that degrade indoor air quality: natural contaminants and those caused by human activity. 

Natural Pollutants

These are always around: dust particles, seasonal pollens, mould, pet dander, cockroaches and rodents. And we all remember the bushfire smoke and ash of 2019. Add to these natural combustion products like bacteria, viruses, excess moisture, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Human Activity

Humans cause air pollutants by using wood-fueled fireplaces, gas-fired pilot lights and cars, to name a few. These, along with countless other activities, produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide and lead.

Building Material

Structural materials like particleboard, adhesives, insulation, carpets, paints, furniture and equipment such as copiers and printers are also indoor air pollutants. Cleaning materials, pesticides, markers and art supplies used in a commercial building can taint the air too.

Reactive Pollutants

Sometimes, outdoor pollutants like traffic and ozone react with indoor chemicals and generate new irritants. These reactions may occur depending on your building’s air intakes and the efficiency and maintenance of heating, ventilation, and HVAC systems.  

Causes of indoor air pollution

In Commercial buildings, indoor environments can be affected by numerous sources. 

HVAC Gone Bad

Firstly – poorly designed, operated and maintained HVAC systems can cause health problems by generating pollutants and moisture, leading to mould growth. Inadequate materials control, dirty filters, and sporadic operation all lead to the buildup of contaminants.

Indoor Air Chemistry

Ozone concentrations are bigger than you think. They get into your building through windows, doors and other intakes and exist in indoor sources like printers, copiers, and badly maintained and exhausted electrostatic air cleaners. Cleaning products and air fresheners contain unsaturated hydrocarbons.

Ventilation

Fine particulates get drawn indoors through the building’s HVAC system. Your system needs to distribute conditioned air within your building to dilute and remove contaminants. HVAC systems can supply all-outdoor recirculated air or a mix of outdoor/indoor return air, making scheduled maintenance paramount.

Filtration

Filtration removes most particulates and certain VOCs, but generally, air filters don't collect submicron-sized particles. The location of your filters is significant to ensure air is filtered before reaching occupants. Make sure your filters can be accessed and maintained in their current position.

Indoor Air Pollution Health Effects and Symptoms

You know when you’re not breathing clean air. It can leave you with mild, nonspecific reactions like irritated eyes, nose and throat and can even lead to fatigue, headaches and dizziness. There are also more severe symptoms, including asthma and other respiratory symptoms, allergic responses, difficulty breathing, itching, and dry, irritated skin.

Exposure to contaminants for long periods, with low levels of outdoor air supply, can increase sick leave and decrease productivity.

Building Better Air – reduce indoor air pollution

These four factors will lessen the air pollution in your building and pull your indoor air quality into line.

Cooling Coil Disinfecting

Installing UVC coil-irradiation and airstream disinfection systems in your HVAC to keep the evaporator coil, drain pan, and surfaces spick n’ span. These simple actions prevent mould and other contaminants from circulating through your HVAC.

Upper-air Systems

Positioning systems in the upper part of rooms to help keep already-circulating air clean. These systems move UVC energy up and out, killing pathogens at ceiling level, stopping occupants from being subjected to them in the lower parts of the room.

Ionisation Technology

Outside, the energy from flowing water, waves and sunlight creates naturally occurring, air-cleaning ions, but the concentration of these ions is much lower indoors. Using Ionisation technology, ions in the air are introduced via your ventilation system without introducing ozone or other harmful byproducts. These ions disperse through your building, combining with already circulating particles. The resulting large clusters are easier for your filtration system to capture. When ions contact pathogens, they disrupt surface proteins, rendering them inactive. Ionisation also attacks VOCs and odours.

Good Ventilation Design

Well-designed ventilation systems supply fresh air, and in doing so, reduce indoor air pollution, odours and take out illness-causing contaminants. Exhaust fans extract fumes and lessen virus particles, while other ventilation relocates intakes by shifting ductwork or adding HVAC technology.

Prevent and purify

You can take a holistic approach with an Indoor Air Quality Monitoring Service (IAQMS). Using an Internet of Things (IoT) platform, actively track conditions to improve the air quality of your commercial building. IAQMS tracks nine air quality parameters: temperature, humidity, lighting levels, sound, CO2, VOC, particulates, airflow and occupancy. Up to 240 ceiling or wall-mounted wireless sensors building-wide can be mounted. The IoT platform is connected to a dashboard and warns when conditions move beyond settings. 

Sustainably Speaking

If you want to improve your building’s carbon footprint, sustainable operation practices can minimise waste, conserve energy, and improve air and water quality.  You can achieve this by maintaining the operational technology equipment that runs your building in the background. It can then be enhanced by sustainability engineers, who can recommend work towards optimal environmental, economic and social improvements for your commercial building.

Breathe Better Air

Monitor air quality, ensure regular maintenance of HVAC systems and implement other technologies to keep your commercial building safe. Schedule monthly maintenance with our specialist team to keep your workplace safe from contaminants.