Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

What is IAQ? IAQ or indoor air quality describes how inside air can affect a person’s health, comfort, and ability to work. It can include temperature, humidity, poor ventilation, mold, or exposure to other chemicals. Texas Tech University believes its faculty, staff, students and visitors deserve a safe academic, working, and recreational environment, free of unsafe or hazardous conditions and is dedicated to addressing problems that may be associated with poor indoor air quality on campus.

IAQ is important not only for workers’ comfort, but also for their health. Poor IAQ has been tied to symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Also, some specific diseases have been linked to air contaminants or indoor environments. In addition, some exposures, such as asbestos and radon, do not cause immediate symptoms but can lead to cancer after many years.

Asbestos

The inhalation of asbestos fibers by workers can cause serious diseases of the lungs and other organs that may not appear for many years. – OSHA

Major Indoor Air Contaminants

The following are common contaminants found in indoor air and possible sources for those contaminants:

  • Carbon Monoxide – engine exhaust, poorly vented and/or improperly functioning boilers and gas appliances, some lab operations, and tobacco smoke. EPA Carbon Monoxide Information.
  • Formaldehyde – preserved tissue specimens and cadavers, plywood, particle board, and paneling, carpeting, glues and adhesives, urea formaldehyde foam insulation, and tobacco smoke. EPA Formaldehyde Fact Sheet.
  • Nitrogen Oxides – combustion products from gas furnaces and appliances, welding, engine exhaust, and tobacco smoke.
  • Ozone – copy machines, electrostatic air cleaners, electrical arcing, and photochemical smog.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) – paints, cleaning compounds, mothballs, adhesives, silicone caulking materials, pesticides, asphalt, dry drain traps, cosmetics, lab operations, and tobacco smoke.
  • Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) – cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco.
  • Microorganisms and Other biological Contaminants – cooling towers, water damaged materials, damp organic material, high humidity indoor areas, hot water systems, animal droppings, and air handling system condensate. EPA Guide to Molds & Moisture.

The General Duty Clause of the OSH Act (the law that created OSHA) requires employers to provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury. It is the responsibility of Texas Tech’s Department of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) to provide technical support; information and training programs; consulting services; and auditing of health, safety, and environmental practices at Texas Tech to ensure the General Duty Clause is met.

One way EH&S helps to provide a safe workplace is through IAQ analysis. A typical inspection might include checking measurements of temperature, humidity and air flow; inspection and testing of the ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems; a building walk-through to check for odors and look for water damage, leaks, dirt or pest droppings, standing water in humidifiers, air conditioning units, and on roofs and in boiler pans. In some circumstances, specific testing for radon or for asbestos may be required. For instance, in schools asbestos needs to be checked every three years and re-inspected every 6 months (under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act- AHERA).

Asbestos

Disturbance of asbestos containing materials can result in the release of air borne asbestos fibers.  The extent of the asbestos fiber release will depend on the amount and type of asbestos containing material that is disturbed. Experts have coined the phrases “friable” and “non-friable” to describe the extent to which a given asbestos containing material can release air borne fibers when disturbed. Asbestos containing materials that can be crumbled or crushed to a powder using hand pressure are considered friable. Examples would be fire proofing, sound proofing, and pipe insulation. Materials with a strong internal matrix such as glues, plasters, and floor tile are classified as non-friable. When friable materials and non-friable materials are exposed to the same degree of physical force, the friable materials will release more air borne fibers. The keys to minimizing the release of air borne fibers are identification of asbestos containing materials, use of engineering controls, implement proper work practices, and employee training.

It is important that workers dealing with specific contaminants be properly trained. At Texas Tech University, asbestos is a contaminant material that can be found in many of the older buildings. OSHA’s regulation 29 CFR 1910.1001, “Occupational Exposure to Asbestos,” requires that all employees who could come into contact with materials that might contain asbestos be given appropriate training on working safely in these situations. Online asbestos training can be accessed on the EH&S training website.

In December of 2012, the university established OP 60.08 for asbestos compliance and abatement. The purpose of this Operating Policy/Procedure (OP) is to establish a campus asbestos compliance and abatement program that will comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, and Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) regulations relating to asbestos exposure. This OP defines the roles and responsibilities of parties involved in the asbestos program.

For more information, you can read the EH&S article “We Do Asbestos” from the June 2013 Scholarly Messenger.

Molds

mold

Spores and mycotoxins produced by molds can have negative effects on human health.

Water leaks in the building envelope, whether from external infiltration or interior pipeline leaks can result in mold contamination. Molds are a natural part of the environment and are found virtually everywhere. For mold to grow inside the building envelope, there must be a source of food and water. The food source can be almost anything that contains carbon such as the paper layer on sheetrock wall board, the wood in fiberboard, or the glue on the back of fiberglass wall panels. The water source can be from outside such as a leaking roof or a poorly sealed window unit, or from inside such as a leaking pipe line. Unlike asbestos mold does not necessary require a disturbing event to have a release. Mold reproduces by means of spores which are released into the air and distributed. The key to controlling mold contamination is to prevent water infiltration and repair water leaks as soon as possible to remove the water source. When dealing with existing mold contamination, engineering controls, work practices, and employee training can reduce the potential for health issues in susceptible individuals in the building population.

Indoor air quality issues are often difficult to identify and correct. The source of the indoor air quality problem can range from vapors released from building components, lack of fresh air resulting from inadequate ventilation, external contaminants pulled into the make-up air system, or contaminants generated as a result of a work activity inside the building. An indoor air quality issue may be limited to just individuals with a sensitivity reaction to a specific chemical or it can affect everyone equally. Trace amounts of a chemical released from newly installed wood paneling may only affect one person in an office two doors down whereas a sewage line backup might impact everyone in the building. If the amount of the release is very small and the number of workers impacted is very limited, identifying the source of the contaminant can take time. Indoor air quality specialists may use questionnaires, interviews, and extremely sensitive monitoring and testing equipment to identify the source.

Occupational air sampling is conducted when there is reason to believe that a work activity may result in an overexposure to the employee performing the task. An evaluation of the work activity is conducted to determine the potential for an overexposure as a result of the duration of the exposure, the material creating the exposure, or the conditions under which the work is being done. The evaluation may determine air sampling should be administered in order to quantify the exposure and identify engineering controls, work practices, or personal protective equipment that would mitigate the health hazard.

An evaluation may also be required to address contaminants released from specific sources identified at Texas Tech University. Some of the sources include boiler and paint booth exhaust stacks. The evaluations have included modeling for the contaminants released and air sampling of the exhaust stacks. The results from the evaluation are compared to the regulatory limitations specified in the permit issued to Texas Tech University.

Please contact EHS at (806) 742-3895 if you would like an indoor air quality assessment performed in your workspace.

If you have any questions or comments, email us at safety@ttu.edu.

This information is not exhaustive and should not be construed as containing all the necessary compliance, safety, or warning information available. Please make sure you consult with EH&S or appropriate supervisors for all safety information and procedures.

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