Indoor air quality (IAQ) is increasingly being recognised as being highly important for the health and wellbeing of those living and working within a building. Poor indoor air quality refers to a range of potential problems caused by either contaminants or problems in the indoor environment and is a significant cause of illness in the workplace and at home.
Problems in the environment that contribute to poor IAQ include poor air conditioning, poor humidity control, poor temperature control or even excessive noise pollution. While these are all relatively obvious and easily fixed, the real problem comes from contaminants, which often go unnoticed as a reason for sickness because they are normally impossible to detect without proper equipment.
Sick building syndrome – what is it?
When you have poor indoor air quality, the people within that building often fall ill with sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome is when people suffer acutely, and that suffering is linked to time spent in a particular building rather than to a specific diagnosable illness. Typical sufferers will see their symptoms increase when they are inside the “sick” building and reduce shortly after they have left for somewhere else. Symptoms are diverse and can include headaches, aches & pains, chronic fatigue and irritation to the skin or eyes and can be caused by a wide range of contaminants including carbon monoxide, radon gas, lead and asbestos.
These issues are caused because the air inside many buildings is considerably more polluted than that which we find outside. In fact, a 1994 study by the Ministry of Health in Canada found that pollution indoors was an incredibly six to ten times higher than outside on average (source: www.canadianenvirotec.com).
For homeowners, this is a concern as you are putting the health of your family at risk. For businesses, the cost is not only in the health of employees but also in their productivity – increased illness and the reduced productivity it causes can be more costly in the long run to the company than seeking the proper repairs.
What effect does this have in the long term?
These contaminants don’t just cause short-term sickness either, with several being linked to serious, often fatal, diseases later in life. Radon gas, for example, occurs naturally due to breakdown of uranium in the soil and can easily build up in homes and offices. Left unchecked and undetected it can be breathed into the lungs where decays further, emitting radiation and causing further damage. Radon gas is attributed to be the main fact in 16% of all deaths due to lung cancer in Canada (source: www.hc-sc.gc.ca).
Another common contaminant found in houses built before 1990 is asbestos. When asbestos is broken, fibres are breathed into the lungs where they cause damage as they are carcinogenic (cancer-causing). This leads to serious asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma which is a cancer, it starts in the covering of the lungs. Because Canada was such a large producer and user of asbestos it has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, with more than 500 new cases every year (source: cmfonline.org).
What should you do next if you are concerned about your indoor air quality?
Regardless of whether you own a home or a business the quality of your air indoors is a serious concern. If you have any reason to believe that the air quality in your building is potentially causing health problems you should contact a professional immediately. While for some houses age is a factor (homes built before 1990 are likely to have asbestos used in their construction, for example), many contaminants can be present regardless of the age of your home (for example radon gas) so don’t let the newness of your home prevent you from taking action. Action taken today can save lives tomorrow.