Benefits of Ventilation
Indoor Air Quality
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) deals with the content of interior air that could affect health and comfort of building occupants. The IAQ may be compromised by microbial contaminants (mould, bacteria), chemicals (such as carbon monoxide and radon), allergens, or any mass or energy stressor that can induce health effects. Recent findings have demonstrated that indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air (albeit with different pollutants) although this has not changed the common understanding of air pollution. In fact, indoor air is often a greater health hazard than the corresponding outdoor setting. Using ventilation to dilute contaminants, filtration, and source control are the primary methods for improving indoor air quality in most buildings.
Techniques for analyzing IAQ include collection of air samples, collection of samples on building surfaces and computer modelling of air flow inside buildings. The resulting samples can be analyzed for mould, bacteria, chemicals or other stressors. These investigations can lead to an understanding of the sources of the contaminants and ultimately to strategies for removing the unwanted elements from the air.
Radon is an invisible, radioactive atomic gas that results from radioactive decay of some forms of uranium that may be found in rock formations beneath buildings or in certain building materials themselves. Radon is probably the most pervasive serious hazard for indoor air in Europe. There are relatively simple tests for radon gas, but these tests are not commonly done, even in areas of known systematic hazards. Radon is a heavy gas and thus will tend to accumulate at the floor level. Building materials can actually be a significant source of radon, but very little testing is done for stone, rock or tile products brought into building sites. The half life for radon is 3.8 days, indicating that once the source is removed, the hazard will be greatly reduced within a few weeks.
Moulds and Other Allergens
Mould health issues and mould growth, assessment, and remediation – these biological chemicals can arise from a host of means, but there are two common classes: (a) moisture induced growth of mould colonies and (b) natural substances released into the air such as animal dander and plant pollen. Moisture buildup inside buildings may arise from water penetrating compromised areas of the building envelope or skin, from plumbing leaks, from condensation due to improper ventilation, or from ground moisture penetrating a building part. In areas where cellulosic materials (paper and wood, including drywall) become moist and fail to dry within 48 hours, mould mildew can propagate and release allergenic spores into the air.
In many cases, if materials have failed to dry out several days after the suspected water event, mould growth is suspected within wall cavities even if it is not immediately visible. Through a mould investigation, which may include destructive inspection, one should be able to determine the presence or absence of mould. In a situation where there is visible mould and the indoor air quality may have been compromised, mould remediation may be needed. Inspections should be done by an independent investigator to avoid any conflict of interest and to insure accurate results.
There are some varieties of mould that contain toxic compounds (mycotoxins). However, exposure to hazardous levels of mycotoxin via inhalation is not possible in most cases, as toxins are produced by the fungal body and are not at significant levels in the released spores. The primary hazard of mould growth, as it relates to indoor air quality, comes from the allergenic properties of the spore cell wall. More serious than most allergenic properties is the ability of mould to trigger episodes in persons that already have asthma, a serious respiratory disease.
One of the most acutely toxic indoor air contaminants is carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless, odorless gas that is a byproduct of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Common sources of carbon monoxide are tobacco smoke, space heaters using fossil fuels, defective central heating furnaces and automobile exhaust. Improvements in indoor levels of CO are systematically improving from increasing numbers of legislated non-smoking buildings. By depriving the brain of oxygen, high levels of carbon monoxide can lead to nausea, unconsciousness and death.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term 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. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives and permanent markers.
Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a surrogate for indoor pollutants emitted by humans and correlates with human metabolic activity. Carbon dioxide at levels that are unusually high indoors may cause occupants to grow drowsy, get headaches, or function at lower activity levels. Humans are the main indoor source of carbon dioxide. Indoor levels are an indicator of the adequacy of outdoor air ventilation relative to indoor occupant density and metabolic activity.
Ozone is produced by ultraviolet light from the Sun hitting the Earth’s atmosphere (especially in the ozone layer), lightning, certain electric devices (such as air ionisers), and as a byproduct of other types of pollution.
Ozone exists in greater concentrations at altitudes commonly flown by passenger jets. Reactions between ozone and onboard substances, including skin oils and cosmetics, can produce toxic chemicals as byproducts. Ozone itself is also irritating to lung tissue and harmful to human health. Larger jets have ozone filters to reduce the cabin concentration to safer and more comfortable levels.
Outdoor air used for ventilation may have sufficient ozone to react with common indoor pollutants as well as skin oils and other common indoor air chemicals or surfaces. Particular concern is warranted when using “green” cleaning products based on citrus or terpene extracts as these chemicals react very quickly with ozone to form toxic and irritating chemicals as well as fine and ultrafine particles.