Air quality is often one of those hard things to quantify by ourselves. If your house fills with smoke after burning something on the stove, it’s pretty easy to see the problem and fix it by opening a window or two. But most issues with air quality are much more subtle, often going unnoticed for long periods of time. Poor quality air, like air with high levels of pollutants, carbon dioxide or contaminants like mould can have serious health effects. Studies have found poor air quality can lead to increased rates of asthma, decreased cognitive function and intelligence, and significantly lower academic performance in school kids. This video is a great crash course for what how stale air affects the human body.
It’s not just at home however that air quality is an issue. Offices and workplaces are areas of common complaint for air quality, and no wonder, having many workers squished together in an urban or industrial area is a recipe for trouble. Add to that any pollutants or issues that the business itself creates, like chemical odours, paint fumes, machinery exhausts or that extra potent lunch that Karen always brings in, and the air inside can be seriously worse than we might expect. Hence, the need for air quality assessments.
So what is an Air Quality Assessment?
An air quality assessment is the process of evaluating any potential issues with air quality in your premises. When booking an air quality assessment it is important to notify the assessor what type of premises it is being tested (residential, commercial, house, office, warehouse, etc.), as this has a large impact on the contaminants being tested. For example, carbon dioxide may be an issue in an enclosed office building, however not in an open warehouse. Carbon monoxide on the other hand may be an issue in a warehouse with forklifts and machinery running, but is unlikely to affect an office space. Mould may be an issue in a residential property that has had recent water damage, while wood dust may be the pollutant at risk of harming workers in a cabinet maker’s shed.
When is an Assessment Required?
Aside from having air regularly tested, there are a many situations warrant air quality investigations. The most common cause to require an air quality investigation is when a health issue has been noted by an occupant and more data is required to isolate the cause of the problem. Another common situation where an air quality assessment would be required is if an odour is noted, and the source is unknown. In this case, the most likely causes of odours are tested, depending on situational context.
Air quality assessments are also useful tools in increasing productivity of workers. An office with poor air quality – whether it is high levels of particulate, carbon dioxide or mould is often associated with poor productivity or errors in work, plus all the issues mentioned before. These contaminants can affect concentration, increase fatigue or even affect memory and responsiveness. Proactive employers also like to check that their work environment is a healthy one for their employees.
How to Get an Air Quality Health Assessment Done?
IECL can provide assessment for the Brisbane and Sydney regions. It is a good idea to collect some information prior to contacting us including the type of premises, the cause of concern, any recent events that could be causing issues (e.g. construction work starting nearby) and any health sensitivities of occupants. This information will help us to know what contaminants to test for. Contact us either by phone or email to arrange an attendance and air quality assessment.
How to Improve Air Quality
Now that the test results are back, we can do something about them. For specific problems IECL can provide advice on remediation, but generally there are a few easy ways to improve air quality.
Keep the place clean. Regular vacuuming, especially of carpeted areas can make a big difference in keeping particulates out of the air.
Open the windows. Let in the fresh air often and ensure it circulates throughout the space. Outdoor air is almost always better than indoor air, especially if your HVAC system doesn’t have a good filtration system. You can even check your local air quality on this website for real-time environmental monitoring.
Clean your Air Con. Air conditioners are designed to be cleaned and serviced regularly. Not just by replacing the filters, but by deep cleaning the system. It can be easy to forget, but many systems recommend a full scrub at least every 6 months. If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are heaps of companies on who would love your business.
Air Purifiers & Scrubbers. Air purifiers are a great option, especially if you have a pet. These vary in shape and size but essentially run the air through a filter or two and capture contaminants. For bigger places, or in the case of say mould damage or after a disaster, air scrubbers can be used. These are basically the big brothers of air purifiers and can clean a lot of air in a short amount of time, though are often a bit loud. Scrubbers can normally be hired easily should the need arise.
AnnesiMaesano, I., Hulin, M., Lavaud, F., Raherison, C., Kopferschmitt, C., de Blay, Frederic, André Charpin, Denis, & Denis, C. (2012). Poor air quality in classrooms related to asthma and rhinitis in primary schoolchildren of the French 6 Cities Study. Thorax, 67(8), 682. https://doi.org/10.1136/thoraxjnl2011200391
Allen, J. G., MacNaughton, P., Satish, U., Santanam, S., Vallarino, J., & Spengler, J. D. (2016). Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments. Environmental Health Perspectives, 124(6), 805–812. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1510037
Stafford, T. M. (2015). Indoor air quality and academic performance. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 70(68), 34–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeem.2014.11.002