Wednesday, 27 Sep, 2017
Indoor Air Quality: Facts & How To Improve
Breathing. It’s the single most important thing that every human being must do to maintain life. On average, we take in the region of 23,000 breaths per day, so it goes without saying that the quality of the air we breathe is incredibly important.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is defined as the degree to which the air in a particular place is pollution-free. Most of us think of pollution as something that occurs outdoors and beyond our control, but it is arguably even more important to be aware of pollution that could be occurring indoors. This is especially significant given the fact that many of us spend the majority of our time inside at work or home.
According to DEFRA, air pollution can cause both short and long term effects on our health. This mainly affects the respiratory and inflammatory systems, but can also lead to more serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer. People with lung or heart conditions may be more susceptible to the effects of air pollution. Pollution affects our wellbeing on many levels – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Poor air quality is related to Sick Building Syndrome, decreased productivity and other symptoms such as poor concentration and fatigue. According to the NHS, Sick Building Syndrome is defined as: a range of symptoms thought to be linked to spending time in a certain building, most often a workplace, but no specific cause can be found.
Some common causes of poor air quality are inadequate ventilation, airborne particles (also known as particulate matter, or PM) such as dust or fungal spores, exposure to computers and wireless devices, poor lighting and even ozone produced by photocopiers and printers.
Indoor Air Quality Facts:
- We spend around 90% of our time indoors, making the quality of indoor air one of the single most important areas of responsibility for business owners.
- In Europe alone, exposure to particulate matter (PM), also known as particle pollution, decreases the life expectancy of every person by an average of almost 1 year. This is mostly due to increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and lung cancer. (World Health Organisation – WHO).
- Other symptoms of poor indoor air quality include: dryness and irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and skin; headaches; fatigue; shortness of breath; hypersensitivity and allergies; sinus congestion; coughing and sneezing; dizziness; nausea (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health - CCOHS)
- A spokesperson for the European Commission, which sets our air quality targets, says the World Health Organisation is now reviewing evidence about mental health, including depression, anxiety and alzheimers.
- Scientists at the University of Utah have found a link between short-term exposure to pollution and suicide - particularly for middle-aged men.
- Indoor & Outdoor air pollution claims up to 40,000 deaths each year in the UK (Royal College of Physicians)
- Indoor air pollution from biological agents in indoor air related to damp and mould increases the risk of respiratory disease by 50%. (World Health Organisation – WHO)
- Indoor environments are 10 times more polluted than outdoor environments (IAQUK.co.uk)
- 50% of all illnesses are caused or exacerbated by polluted indoor air (AMA – IAQUK.co.uk)
- 73% of Facilities Managers have installed a fake thermostat to reduce complaints of indoor air quality without actually addressing the issue (IAQUK.co.uk)
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognises indoor air quality as one of the top five health hazards facing modern society
- The UK has some of the highest rates of asthma in Europe, mostly linked to pollution (Asthma UK)
- People who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores in crucial areas such as responding to a crisis or developing strategy than those who work in offices with typical levels. (Environmental Health Perspectives: ehponline.org)
- According to an Australian study, improving IAQ reduces sick leave rate by 39% and costs by 44% (Green Building Council Australia)
With evidence building that this problem is increasing in cities globally, and the far-reaching implications for health and wellbeing, it is more important than ever to take action. This is the very reason facilities management companies, hospitality specialists & cleaning companies, along with general businesses are looking for effective solutions to this issue. After all, a business is only as strong as the people within it and this is one of the easiest ways to ensure improved health and wellbeing for everyone involved. An investment in air quality is an investment in your company.
5 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality:
- Circulate fresh air through the office by regularly opening doors & windows for proper ventilation. This sounds pretty simple. And it is. Many indoor spaces have heating or air conditioning that circulates stale air. Simply opening doors or windows for 30 minutes a day can have a positive impact. However, be aware that if your office is on a busy road or if windows do not open it is important to utilise other options, such as having a variety of plants to help naturally filter the air.
- Add indoor plants to filter the air and remove toxins. According to research conducted by NASA, it is recommended that at least one plant per 100 square feet is all it takes for efficient air-cleaning. Companies such as Planteria offer a free quote and services to install and maintain plants and flowers for businesses, chosen specifically to improve air quality whilst also providing other benefits (see ‘5 Benefits of Indoor Planting’). You can also learn “How to Grow Fresh Air” by using an arrangement of common indoor plants, as explained by Kamal Meattle in his TED Talks video.
- Avoid synthetic fragrances, air fresheners, scented candles & scented cleaning supplies. Many of today’s artificial fragrances contain powerful chemicals known as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which can be toxic to skin and lungs. VOCs are dangerous to human health and cause harm to the environment, especially indoors where the concentration is high and ventilation usually low. If you really want to have welcoming fresh scents indoors consider natural alternatives such as fresh flowers. Companies such as JungleWorld and Planteria specialise in providing fresh flower deliveries suited to the specific needs and budget of businesses. Another option is choosing an air diffuser with natural scents from pure essential oils.
- Ensure your environment is thoroughly cleaned by professionals, particularly carpets, surfaces, and furniture. Use a specialist cleaning company that uses eco-friendly cleaning products. Encourage staff to keep workspaces tidy and de-clutter regularly to minimise dust, mould and other airborne particles. Where possible choose floor surfaces that are non-absorbing and easy to clean. Carpets can be unsanitary and trap particles, mould and other contaminants. If you need to tidy your workspace yourself, dust with a damp cloth to remove particulate matter (PM) rather than just spreading it around.
- Control Moisture & Humidity. Dampness creates a breeding ground for dust mites, mould, mildew and other irritants. Air conditioners, de-humidifiers and air filters can help keep your workplace at a healthy humidity level, which is between 30-50% humidity. Ensure drip pans, vents, filters and air ducts are regularly emptied and cleaned to proactively improve air quality. Note that although air conditioning can help control moisture and humidity, it can also over-do this job by causing the air to be too dry. If not correctly monitored, air conditioning and heating can cause several issues indoors causing dry skin and dry eyes, among other things. Here is another area plants can help by increasing the humidity to counteract the perils of air conditioning and heating. Houseplants increase humidity in the air through a process known as transpiration. Plants absorb water through their roots, then circulate the moisture through stems and leaves with a vascular system that's comparable to human veins and capillaries. Water reaches the leaves, evaporates into the air and increases indoor humidity. A study by NASA also showed that certain high-transpiration plants could remove up to 87 percent of indoor air pollutants within 24 hours.
If you’d like to regularly measure the quality of the air in your environment you can do so using a special tool called a VOC sensor, which measures volatile organic compounds. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of different chemicals, some of which may have adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands (EPA definition).
There are several companies out there that can measure IAQ on your behalf or you can also purchase your own VOC sensor if required. If you have a third party managing this on your behalf, be sure you understand where the sensor has come from and how to read the data captured.
Download the Indoor Air Quality Rating Index from IAQUK.org.uk