Watch Out For Indoor Pollutants

December 18, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Melissa Harris had a personal story which punctuated her presentation before the Grand Rapids Chapter of the American Indoor Air Quality Council. Harris, communications coordinator for the Greenguard Environmental Institute, Atlanta, spoke of her brother-in-law and his exposure to mold.

Harris said that he had been a picture of good health all of his life and was an athlete who trained regularly. His bedroom in his parent's home began showing signs of mold growth. The young man was later diagnosed with asthma. He had to quit running track and experienced a number of other health problems. When the mold was remediated, his asthma cleared up completely and he was able to participate in sports again.

She discussed a couple of disturbing facts with the meeting attendees:

  • Indoor air pollutants are sometimes two to five times higher than outdoor air pollutants.

  • 20 to 30 percent of office workers experience health symptoms related to poor IAQ.

  • 50 percent of schools have IAQ problems.

    "We want to create environments that make everyone comfortable," said Harris. "We need to design and operate buildings that have a positive impact on occupants."

    Melissa Harris talks about the Greenguard product certification process.

    What Goes In Must Come Out

    Harris said that products used indoors have a definite impact on IAQ. Many items, such as office furniture, can emit volatile organic chemicals (VOCs).

    "If you have products emitting fewer chemicals, you don't have to rely on ventilation systems to pull pollutants out of the building," she said.

    Harris noted that furniture is one of the highest emitters of chemicals. She said that carpets and ceiling tiles act as traps for chemicals, especially if an office has been freshly painted.

    "You can minimize indoor pollution by selecting low-toxicity, low-odor materials," she said. "And beware of ‘VOC-free' products. This does not mean that the products do not emit VOCs."

    Harris said that it is important for construction management and building maintenance departments to develop an overall IAQ management plan.

    Harris said the first thing to do is to look for the Greenguard mark on furniture and other indoor products. This means that the products have gone through a testing and certification process.

    "To be certified, manufacturers bring their products to us for testing," she stated. "We also review the manufacturing facility and require ongoing facility monitoring."

    Harris said that Greenguard has a free online product guide that lists the certified products (www.greenguard.org). Certified products familiar to the HVACR trade include those manufactured by CertainTeed Corp., manufacturer of duct products.

    The cost of certification can run from as little as $5,000 to $10,000 and as high as $250,000. "There can be additional costs if changes are needed to the manufacturing process," she said.

    Publication date: 12/22/2003

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