Reducing Environmental Risk

People and their activities in office buildings generate indoor air pollution

by | May 27, 2008 | Indoor Air Quality

These activities include cooking odors from company cafeterias, body odors and cosmetic odors. Work activities from non-HVAC system equipment contribute to the problem. There are emissions from office equipment (volatile organic compounds or “VOCs” and ozone), office supplies (solvents, toners, ammonia, formaldehyde from carbonless copy paper), shops, labs, cleaning processes, elevator motors and other mechanical systems. Emissions from office equipment and related activities are regulated in private offices under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and in public offices in New York under the state’s Public Employees’ Safety and Health Act (PESH) and right-to-know laws. 

Office-specific housekeeping activities can themselves be culprits. Toxic air pollutants emitted from cleaning materials and procedures, stored supplies or trash, the use of deodorizers and fragrances, airborne dust or dirt circulated by sweeping and vacuuming are obvious causes. While not formally regulated, such contaminants can be reduced through “green cleaning,” which has lately taken hold as a practice in office and other buildings largely through private efforts. Building-wide maintenance activities provide other sources, such as microorganisms in mist from improperly maintained cooling towers; volatile organic compounds from use of paint, caulk, adhesives and other products; and pesticides from pest control activities.

Indoor sources of air pollution from building components are varied. Textured surfaces such as carpeting, curtains, and other textiles; open shelving; old or deteriorated furnishings; and materials containing damaged asbestos, such as pipe insulation and floor and ceiling tiles, are typical sources. This last source – asbestos – is the single most highly regulated source of indoor air pollution due to its health- and life-threatening properties. More recently, it has become apparent that PCBs can be released from pre-1978 paint and caulking, especially when the latter is ground down during renovation work.



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