Environmental Health & Safety
Indoor Air Quality Program
How is Indoor Air Quality Defined?
The term “indoor air quality” (IAQ) is used to broadly describe environmental factors which may adversely impact the perceived air quality in an indoor environment. This can include laboratories, classrooms, and general office spaces. Poor indoor air quality impacts individuals in different ways, but symptoms can range from simple respiratory tract irritation to allergic reactions. Common factors for IAQ include:
- Comfort factors (i.e., temperature, humidity, air movement)
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- Biological contaminants
- Airborne particulates
During an IAQ assessment, temperature, humidity, oxygen, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compound (VOC) levels within the area of concern may be assessed. A visual inspection of the HVAC system is also conducted. Additional sampling may be conducted based on initial findings.
Reporting IAQ Concerns
- Visible signs of possible mold
- Temperature or humidity issues
- Leaks or moisture issues
- Particulates or dirt coming from the HVAC system
- Facility cleanliness
- Odors (sewer, rotten eggs)
- Stagnant or stale air
- Drafty air
- Pressure balance issues
Facilities Services will consult with Environmental Health and Safety on IAQ complaints with no visible mold, leaks or odors, or where a source cannot be identified or a remedy cannot be found.
It is important to remember that due to the fact mold spores are ubiquitous in our environment, meaning they are prevalent everywhere both indoors and outdoors, there are no regulatory limits covering indoor contaminant levels of mold. Since mold is abundant everywhere, virtually all sampling will reveal microbial growth even if there is not active growth. As such, existing guidance documents do not endorse air sampling as a routine component of an assessment and will not be considered until other investigative activities have been used to collect and evaluate information about the complaint. A typical mold investigation begins with a visual inspection of the affected area(s). It is important to assess the situation, identify the source then repair and remediate as necessary. Air samples may be taken if deemed necessary. When taken, air samples are compared to outdoor ambient spore levels to assess whether the affected space shows elevated spore count levels. Outdoor samples can vary widely from day to day and even from location to location on the same day and may not provide meaningful, accurate results.
Here are some tips for avoiding mold growth in your building:
- The key to mold control is moisture control. Report any evidence or signs of excess moisture, condensation, leaks, etc. to Facilities Services for investigation of the source
- Reduce humidity
- Avoid portable humidifiers
- Completely dry damp or wet surface and materials immediately
- Housekeeping! Keep your office clean to avoid buildup of spores. Have carpet cleaned regularly
- Do not block or shut HVAC vents or building air returns
- Minimize accumulations of paper, cardboard, and other cellulose-based materials
- Do not keep live plants in your office/area
If you smell a gas odor, or if a gas monitor alarm sounds immediately contact University PD at 931-372-3234 or 911.
- Warn others in the immediate area
- Evacuate the immediate area
- Notify the Department Head, Building Proctor, Resident Advisor if appropriate
- Prevent the use of or remove sources of ignition (cigarettes, electrical equipment, etc.) from the area
- Meet with and assist emergency response personnel
- Do not re-enter the area until cleared by authorized personnel
Contact EHS for strong or unusual odors associated with:
- Spills or accidental releases of hazardous materials
NOTE: All incidental releases of chemicals should be handled as indicated by the associated Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and lab or work area standard operating procedures.
- OSHA: OSHA Indoor Air Quality
- American Industrial Hygiene Association: Improving Indoor Air Quality at Work
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): Indoor Environmental Quality
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): Mold Information
- United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Introduction to Indoor Air Quality
- United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Indoor Air Quality in offices
For questions or concerns about IAQ, contact EHS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most common causes of IAQ problems in buildings?:
- Not enough ventilation, lack of fresh outdoor air (air changes), or air that has been contaminated with allergens, such as pollen or dust, being brought into the building
- Improperly functioning heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems
- Lack of regular “housekeeping” activities with regard to proper cleaning activities such as dusting, cleaning of carpets, removal of trash, etc.
- Dampness and moisture damage due to leaks, flooding or high humidity
- Occupant activities, such as construction or remodeling
- Indoor and outdoor contaminated air
How long does sampling take?
- Depending on the type of monitoring that is required, sampling can range from a few hours to a week or more
Are there currently any regulations on mold?
- No, there are currently no established levels for mold exposure. The effects from mold exposure can vary between individuals based on many factors.
Is there a single test that can find an IAQ problem?
- No, there is no single test that will identify all IAQ issues. A variety of instruments are commonly used to produce a comprehensive summary of air quality parameters.
What is considered good IAQ?
- There is no singular definitive answer as to what constitutes good IAQ. The qualities of good IAQ should include comfortable temperature and humidity, adequate supply of fresh outdoor air, and control of pollutants from inside and outside of the building. Comfortable temperature and humidity can be highly subjective. However, an acceptable range is published in ASHRAE Standard 55, Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy.