Indoor Air Quality and Your Employees' Health

by Marcos Cordero on June 16, 2011
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Have you thought about the quality of the air in your office space? The EPA has found that indoor air is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, and that 50 percent of all illnesses are caused or exacerbated by poor indoor air quality (IAQ). Moreover, poor IAQ is estimated to cost the economy around $160 billion each year, with U.S. workers missing more than 24 million work days annually because of asthma or other IAQ-related sickness.

So, knowing the impact, what can your business do to improve its indoor air quality? Here are some ideas from the Green Business Bureau to help you address these concerns for you and your employees.

  • Proper maintenance of your HVAC system and its filters is a fundamental part of the solution. Set a maintenance schedule to assure that you, your facilities staff, or your building management check your HVAC filter each month, and make sure that dirty filters are cleaned or replaced. An annual professional inspection of your system should also include a cleaning of cooling coils and drain pans to avoid mold growth. The HVAC trade association ASHRAE has established standards that will promote good IAQ, and it can be an excellent resource to consult for additional advice and support.
  • Make sure that your office furnishings don’t damage indoor air quality. Formaldehyde and benzene are among the many toxic chemicals that are often used in the manufacture of office furniture. Unfortunately, these Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) chemicals are released over time into the environment (a process known as off-gassing), triggering a variety of respiratory illnesses in office workers. When selecting new office furniture, seek out respected certifications like GreenGuard for carpeting, desks, and chairs, which will help to assure that you’re making healthier, safer choices in furnishing your space.
  • Cleaning supplies are another prime offender for off-gassing. From chlorine bleach to phosphoric acid, the range of VOCs released by conventional cleaning products makes the switch to non-toxic cleaners an easy, but important decision. Cleaners that use natural, bio-based ingredients will not only improve office air quality dramatically, but will also avoid the toxic residues that these cleaners leave behind on surfaces (which can then picked up by our shoes, clothing, and skin). A Green Seal certification can help in differentiating between cleaning products on the market, making sure that you’re selecting cleaners that are safer and greener.
  • Office supplies are another unexpected source of air-polluting VOCs. Glues, correction fluids, markers, and even some tapes can all emit hazardous chemicals into your office environment. To help avoid these concerns, select low-VOC labelled office supplies or products that only use eco-friendly, all-natural components, giving you and your staff better piece of mind. Eclectic Products’ EcoGlue is just one example of a supply alternative that uses water-based ingredients with virtually no environmental health impact. The EPA’s Environmental Preferable Purchasing guidelines provide some great additional ideas on how to source your supplies wisely.
  • Not every off-gassing item can be avoided (especially not right away), so it’s also important to use natural air filtration methods. The GBB recommends opening windows to ventilate when the weather allows, and use plants to capture airborne pollutants. NASA studies have shown a range of easy-to-grow species like English ivy, peace lily, and bamboo palm to be particularly good at capturing common VOCs, and it also recommends having at least one plant for every 50 square feet of floor space.
  • Finally, if you choose to use air fresheners or odor removers, be sure that these products use only non-toxic ingredients. Many chemical air fresheners may smell nice, but the chemicals they emit can actually be hazardous to your health. Solutions like the Tub O’ Carbon Air Freshener use activated carbon to capture odors without adding harmful pollutants to the air.

Improving your office air quality will help you, your staff, and visiting clients all breathe easier. Being conscious of the causes of poor indoor air quality and knowing the simple solutions you can undertake will give to address it will give you the knowledge you need for a healthier, more sustainable office space.

Let us know what kinds of measures you take in your business and what effects those have!

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