AirQuest Environmental, Inc., an environmental and industrial hygiene consulting services firm, issued a press release discussing the potential hazards of indoor air in green office buildings. The recycled circulated air in “tightly constructed” green buildings allow pathogens, bacteria, viruses and mold to build up and make employees in the building sick.

“Indoor air quality is an increasing concern as people spend more time indoors than in the past,” said Traci-Anne Boyle in a statement. “Today’s tighter buildings are designed to reduce AC usage by keeping out Florida’s hot and humid air. But that could mean less circulation of fresh air and a faster buildup of any indoor contaminants.”

According to Boyle, the fresh air intakes should remain open, “building managers and owners have been known to shut the fresh air intakes to reduce cooling costs.”

All office buildings recycle indoor air, green or not. While natural ventilation system and Dedicated Outdoor Air Systems (DOASs) allow the switch between fresh and re-circulated air, in many climates, this may decrease the comfort level of building’s inhabitants at certain times of the year.

The issue is that many building managers do not regularly and adequately clean the air vents in the building, allowing bacteria to build. Is no one concerned about Legionnaires’ disease anymore? Within the first month of my first summer office job, I became really sick with a respiratory illness, pneumonia to be exact. Between the giant antibiotic pills I had to take and the general lethargy I felt, it was not a happy introduction to the working world. While I can’t prove that the building made me sick—it was over a decade ago—I’d be willing to bet that it played a role.

Boyle offers several tips to avoid illness:
• Relocate any fresh air intakes to avoid pulling in outside contaminants from incinerators, garbage bins or loading docks.
• Follow the maintenance schedules on HVAC systems.
• Increase the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of air conditioning filters to the highest level acceptable for the AC system.
• Minimize copy toner and other chemical use in office space.
• Purchase office furniture with low or no formaldehyde and other volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions
• Use low VOC paints for remodeling or decorating.
• Vacuum floors using equipment with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters.
• Respond to any leak in the plumbing system, roof or windows within 24 hours and thoroughly dry any moist materials to prevent mold growth.
• Store chemicals in a central location with adequate ventilation to the outside.
• Use natural or organic janitorial cleaning and pest control products.

Source: AirQuest Environmental, Inc.
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