Q. What is Indoor Environmental Quality?
A. Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) refers to the effect, good or bad, of the contents of the environment (air, building materials and potable water) inside a structure. What contributes to the environmental quality is the impact the contents can have on the occupants.
Q. How common are IEQ problems?
A. IEQ problems are frequently encountered by occupants. The number of home and office environments with problems that occupants are not aware of, are even more common. Many of these problems cannot be seen or detected, unless scientific instrumentation is used.
Q. How serious is the indoor air quality problem?
A. Poor indoor air quality is among the top five environmental risks to public health, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In many instances, indoor air can be pathogenic, carcinogenic, or filled with agents that cause allergens. However, most people are unaware of the risks.
Q. What are the symptoms of IEQ problems?
A. Problems associated with IEQ can include headaches, fatigue, skin irritation, allergies, coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, interruption to sleep patterns or an overall feeling of ill health. Other problems can be more serious, such as respiratory disease or pulmonary issues. For the most part, a problem in the home or office may not be apparent unless qualified personnel and scientific instrumentation are used.
Q. What are the potential health risks?
A. A recent report from the American Lung Association (ALA) noted that approximately 160 million Americans are breathing unhealthy air. Children and seniors are the age groups most at risk for respiratory disorders and diseases that result in decreased lung function. Every year, lung disease claims more than 349,000 lives in America, making it the third leading cause of death. The death rate for lung disease continues to increase faster than almost every other major disease.
Q. Are there any federal indoor air quality guidelines?
A. No. Since the 1970s, the EPA has monitored and regulated levels of pollutants in outdoor air, significantly reducing emissions. However, to date, there are no federal standards for indoor air quality – even though EPA studies show that levels of air pollution inside a building can be five times higher than outdoor levels. Therefore, individuals bear the responsibility for assessing and monitoring IAQ as part of their overall indoor environmental quality.
Q. What are the most common indoor air pollutants?
A. Many types of air pollutants can be found indoors, including the following potentially harmful substances:
Airborne particles smaller than 10 micrometers in size. These “respirable” particles, which can be inhaled into the lungs, include dust mites, pollen, pet dander and fungal spores. Even if the particles are benign, concentrations can build up in the lungs over time, resulting in chronic respiratory conditions. In Florida, many buildings have a very high concentration of these particles in the air – specially when air-conditioning systems are operating year-round.
Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) emitted by cleaning products, paint, building materials, home furnishings, carpet or other household materials. For instance, formaldehyde is a VOC frequently used in pressed wood products, clothing, drapes and carpeting. Many household cleaners and detergents also release gases into the living environment. Exposure to VOCs can cause a variety of problems, including eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders and memory impairment.
Q. How often is an indoor air test needed?
A. At least annually. Because the levels of indoor air contaminants can change quickly, it’s important to monitor IAQ as part of a regular IEQ test. For instance, an undetected plumbing leak can increase moisture buildup in walls and carpet/upholstery cleaning products can leave high levels of VOCs. Therefore, testing is recommended on a regular basis.
A. Moisture problems can have a significant effect on IEQ. Moisture indoors may be a result of rain leaks, floods, or excessive humidity. Moisture intrusion raises humidity, which contributes to increases in dust mites as well as mold, bacteria and other micro-organisms. Many people are allergic to dust mites and mold. In order to prevent growth of microorganisms in large numbers, water problems need to be dealt with rapidly.