Implications of indoor airborne contaminants

InformeDesign® has launched Implications, a newsletter that investigates the effect of construction-based indoor airborne contaminants on occupant health, comfort, and productivity. This report was written by William J. Angell, a professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Indoor Air Quality Project (IAQ).

According to Angell, research on indoor pollutant sources originally centered on volatile organic compounds released from building components, finishes, and furnishings. However, recent research has focused on building construction as a source of indoor air pollution. The interior construction activities of grinding concrete and metal; removing wallboard, carpeting and ceiling tile; applying adhesives and finishes; and transporting materials, equipment, debris and workers in and out of a building have been identified as originators of indoor air pollutants.

The health issues arising from exposure to indoor air contaminants most commonly are respiratory symptoms and diseases, allergies and other immune system diseases, cancer, skin and mucous membrane problems, and sensory and central nervous system effects, including “Sick Building Syndrome.” Those most prone to the effects of these contaminants are individuals who are immune compromised or who have pre-existing respiratory and cardiac conditions, seniors, infants and fetuses.

To protect the inhabitants of the environments they create, facility professionals must be aware of the sources of indoor air pollutants and incorporate strategies to limit construction-caused pollutants. Angell identifies tools to help manage the risks of construction-caused pollutants in interior spaces: pre-design programming, planning and bid documents; control measures during construction; and environmental monitoring and surveillance. In particular, Infection Control Risk Assessment strategies are very important tools to control indoor air quality pollutants in health care settings. ICRA programs protect patients according to their levels of susceptibility to indoor air contaminants. Individuals most susceptible have been identified as bone marrow transplant, AIDS, leukemia, solid organ transplant and cancer patients, and individuals undergoing chemotherapy.

Angell has developed and taught many IAQ courses, including those dealing with biocontaminants, carbon monoxide, construction pollutants and radon in schools, health care facilities and residences. He has been principal investigator on more than 90 EPA, state, tribal, association, industry and other sponsored projects. In 2004, he completed a critical review of scientific peer-reviewed literature on residential IAQ for the EPA’s Radiation and Indoor Environments National Laboratory, and, a year earlier, developed an EPA-supported national pilot IAQ course for tribes. Angell also has been a visiting scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s Indoor Environments Program.

To view this and archived issues of Implications, click on the “Main Menu” on the InformeDesign home page and then click on the “Monthly Newsletter” link. Past issues have addressed the subjects of aging; children’s needs; sustainable design; graphic design and the built environment; influence of culture on design; daylighting and lighting; human geography; design and social responsibility; ergonomics; and color, among others.