On average, a person inhales more than 15,000 quarts of air every day. The quality of the air we breathe can vary vastly depending on the setting, especially when it comes to indoor air. In fact, years of scientific evidence has indicated inside air pollutant levels can be two to five times higher than outdoor levels.
Referred to as indoor air quality (IAQ), the condition of breathable air within and surrounding a building or structure is vital to the comfort, health and well-being of those inside. There are many contributing factors to IAQ, including the amount of outside air, temperature and humidity as well as the concentration of airborne contaminants.
In industrial workplace air, these contaminants can be produced through a variety of processes, systems and aspects of manufacturing. When not properly addressed, poor IAQ can drastically impact workers, products and machinery. Here is a look into common air pollutants, some associated health risks and how professionals in various industrial and manufacturing positions can improve IAQ.
Common Indoor Air Contaminants and Causes
Poor or problematic IAQ stems primarily from indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air. When there is inadequate ventilation, indoor pollutant levels are greater, therefore further reducing air quality. This is due to an insufficient amount of outdoor air to dilute emissions along with the fact they are not being carried out of the area. Indoor concentration of pollutants can also be compounded by high temperatures and humidity levels.
The common contaminants in industrial air are typically volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM). Contaminants may depend on the industrial setting or materials used. For instance, radon in the case of mining or nonbiological particles from geologic debris, gypsum dust and more.
Sources of VOCs
- Carpeting and upholstery
- Cleaning agents
- Copy machines and printers
- Paints and glues
Sources of CO
- Automobile exhaust
- Poorly maintained furnaces or boilers
- Sources of combustion, such as oil, gas, coal, wood and kerosene
Sources of PM
- Combustion of solid mineral fuels, liquid fuels and biomass
- Laser printers
- Microbial contaminants
- Outdoor sources
Maintenance and the age of a single source can influence the amount of emitted pollution as well as its hazardousness. An example of this could be an improperly adjusted piece of machinery expending natural gas that is emitting significantly more carbon monoxide than a properly adjusted model.
The Risks of Poor IAQ
Ranked consistently among the top environmental risks to public health by the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution is not an issue to take lightly. It has been tied to symptoms like irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs as well as headaches, dizziness, fatigue and trouble concentrating. These health effects are usually short term and treatable but can still impact the person’s ability to function on the job.
More seriously, specific air contaminants and exposures to hazards, such as radon and asbestos, have been linked to life-threatening diseases. The illnesses can range from respiratory diseases, heart disease and even certain cancers. Health effects from such pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or years later depending on the person’s health, the contaminate itself or degree of exposure.
How to Improve Industrial IAQ
One of the top approaches to improving air quality standards is properly maintaining the ventilation system. The everyday operations within industrial facilities can produce myriad airborne contaminants. It’s up to the industrial ventilation fans, blowers and dampers specially designed to remove contaminates to adequately minimize or eliminate the threat.
However, if ventilation systems are insufficiently maintained or constructed, they can contribute to indoor air problems in various ways. It’s crucial to create a quality compliance program with scheduled maintenance, filter changes, special procedures and detailed record keeping. With a formal plan in place, HVAC systems can operate as intended and IAQ can remain optimal.
Tied into this is employee training. It’s beneficial for all parties that workers are properly trained and educated on the dangers of poor IAQ as well as the importance of appropriately mitigating them. Instruct all team members on performing exposure control strategies along with regular checks on safety equipment, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and respirators.
Another approach is comprehensive cleaning. On top of improving cleaning practices to cut back on particle matter like dust and mold, changing the cleaning products in use can help in eliminating irritants. It’s recommended to avoid abrasive or solvent-based cleaners along with those with fragrances or strong scents. Also, ensure cleaning crews are outfitted with the proper PPE and they know what to do when leaks, spills or other dangers are spotted.
Lastly, there are methods of removing airborne contaminants at their source. Installing dust and other pollutant collection equipment with high-efficiency filters works to extract harmful particulates as they’re generated or kicked up. Having sophisticated measures in place designed specifically for dust collection is essential for indoor environment safety.
Addressing poor IAQ begins with testing. Proper testing can identify any airborne contaminants and their sources as well as how they are impacting employee health. Once a facility has identified areas in need of improvement, changes can be implemented and air quality improved.
AUTHOR BIO: Jeremias Schreyer is National Business Development Manager for Kelair Dampers, a privately held company specializing in manufacturing industrial dampers for air conditioning since 1987. He has 10 years of experience in the industry, performing duties such as content creation, web development, marketing campaigns, business development and plant inspection.