Published in the November 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
It can be a challenge for facility managers (fms) to determine if their buildings have exceptional, fair, or even poor indoor air quality (IAQ). That is because measuring and testing IAQ is an imperfect science with many variables, and the path to establishing whether or not a building has healthy indoor air is rarely clear cut.
Inadequate ventilation, chemical substances (both indoor and out), and biological contaminants all play a role in determining the overall “health” of the indoor environment. While many noxious substances—garbage, dust, volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—make their presence known, some of the most dangerous are odorless, colorless, and tasteless.
The Facts About Mold
By Joseph Drapala
Mold, also known as mildew, is a form of fungus that is present year round, both indoors and out. Everyone is exposed to fungal spores on a daily basis. Mold thrives in warm and humid conditions, although it even grows during cold weather.
When it comes to mold, there is no such thing as a completely clean building. Humidity, dampness, roof leaks, plumbing leaks, and compromised sprinkler systems can all contribute to mold growth.
In an example in Mississippi, someone remodeling a room that had been closed off for a while found mold growing on the windows. All it took for mold to begin blooming was humidity, condensation trapped between blinds and curtains, and time. Because the problem wasn’t discovered for several months, ambient mold (a dark grayish black film) had the opportunity to cover the windows.
In this case, the solution was easy—a good scrubbing with soap and water. There are certainly other cleaners that could be used, such as ammonium chloride solutions, phenols, and glutaraldehydes. However, this may be overkill, particularly in those instances when fumes from toxic cleaners produce health risks more harmful than the mold.
Is Mold Dangerous?
Small amounts of mold are not a major cause for concern, but no mold should be allowed to flourish indoors. Some produce toxic substances called mycotoxins. According to the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), airborne mycotoxins have not been shown to cause health problems. However, the effects of breathing mycotoxins are not well understood and are currently under study.
While most people have no reaction when exposed to molds, responses similar to common pollen or animal allergies/irritation are the most prevalent health effects for those who are sensitive. Flu like symptoms and skin rashes may occur. Molds may also aggravate asthma. In rare cases, fungal infections from building associated molds may occur in people with a serious immune disease. Most symptoms are temporary and eliminated by correcting the problem.
People who may be affected more severely and quickly than others include: infants and children; the elderly; pregnant women; individuals with respiratory conditions, allergies, and asthma; and persons with weakened immune systems. Those who think they may be affected should consult with their doctor. Individuals with persistent health problems that appear to be related to mold exposure should see their physicians for a referral to practitioners trained in occupational/environmental medicine or related specialties and are knowledgeable about these types of exposures.
Mold gets blamed for a lot of things, but it is not the only indoor air quality (IAQ) issue that warrants concern. There are far more people who are allergic to dust mites than to mold, and symptoms that may appear to be from mold exposure may be due to bacterial or viral infections or other allergies.
Controlling excess moisture is the key to preventing and stopping indoor mold growth. There are a number of preventive measures that can be taken:
*Plumbing leaks and openings in the building structure should be repaired as soon as possible.
*Fms should look for condensation and wet spots. Moisture incursion problems should be fixed.
*Moisture condensation can be prevented by increasing surface temperature or by reducing humidity levels. To increase surface temperature, fms can insulate or increase air circulation. To reduce humidity, they should repair leaks, increase ventilation (if outside air is cold and dry), or dehumidify (if outdoor air is warm and humid).
*HVAC drip pans should be kept clean, flowing properly, and unobstructed.
*There should be regularly scheduled building/HVAC inspections and maintenance (including filter changes).
*Indoor relative humidity should be maintained below 60% (25% to 50%, if possible).
*Moisture generating appliances, such as dryers, should be vented to the outside where possible.
*Kitchens, other cooking areas, and restrooms should be vented to local code requirements.
*Wet or damp spots should be cleaned and dried as soon as possible (no longer than 48 hours after discovery).
*Adequate drainage around buildings should be in place, with the ground sloping away from building foundations. All local codes should be followed.
*Fms should pinpoint areas where leaks have occurred, identify the cause, and take preventive action to ensure they do not reoccur.
Some mold problems are beyond the scope of what fms can solve on their own. OSHA has guidelines to help fms determine when professional help is required. Remediation can be conducted by the regular building maintenance staff if the mold problem is at Level 1 (considered to be small isolated areas of 10 square feet or less, such as mold on ceiling tiles and small areas on walls), or Level 2 (up to 10 to 30 contiguous feet of mold, such as on individual wallboard panels).
The maintenance staff should be trained in proper clean up methods, personal protection, and potential health hazards. This training can be performed as part of a program to comply with the requirements of the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). Respiratory safeguards, such as a N-95 disposable respirator, are recommended, and gloves and eye protection should be worn.
The work area should be unoccupied; for adjacent spaces, having people vacate the area is only recommended for those recovering from recent surgery, immune suppressed people, or people with chronic inflammatory lung diseases (e.g., asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and severe allergies). While it is not necessary to seal off the area being worked on, it is helpful to follow dust suppression methods, such as misting (not soaking) surfaces prior to cleaning.
Mold can generally be removed from nonporous surfaces by wiping or scrubbing the contaminated objects with water and detergent. It is important to dry these surfaces quickly and thoroughly to discourage further growth.
As a general rule, simply killing the mold with biocide (or another cleaning substance) is not enough. The mold must be removed, since the chemicals and proteins which can cause a reaction in humans are present even in dead mold. Using disinfectant, such as chlorine bleach, is not recommended as a routine practice during remediation, although there may be instances where professional judgment may indicate the need for it.
Contaminated materials that cannot be cleaned should be removed from the building in a sealed plastic bag and disposed of as ordinary waste. The work area, as well as those places that the workers are entering and exiting, should be cleaned with a damp cloth or mop and a detergent solution. Level 2 areas should also be HEPA vacuumed. All locations should be left dry and visibly free from contamination and debris.
Drapala, Certified Industrial Hygienist, is director of industrial hygiene and IAQ services at HAZCLEAN Environmental Consultants, Inc. in Jackson, MS. To download a free brochure on mold or to access a list of industrial hygiene consultants specializing in mold, visit AIHA.
Protecting occupant health is the primary concern for IAQ, and over the past 25 years, codes and standard regulations have been implemented to help ensure this concern is addressed. The Model Energy Code, first published in 1983, included ventilation rate requirements, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 62.1-2007, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, set minimum ventilation rates and other requirements for commercial and institutional buildings.
Beyond addressing health and safety concerns, adhering to these standards is paramount because of the potential liability implications for organizations. Among the hot button issues are mold, presence of irritants/contaminants, and Legionnaires’ disease.
Mold. A significant problem in the past, mold has emerged as the most prominent IAQ issue. (See “The Facts About Mold” sidebar below for more information.)
Legionnaires’ disease. This threat surfaced during an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976. Since that time, several thousand cases have been reported around the globe each year. Onset of the disease is often the result of contamination in the cooling tower portion of the HVAC system of commercial or institutional buildings.
Presence of irritants/contaminants. This situation can occur through off-gassing of interior finishes and materials, contamination of HVAC delivery systems, and the introduction of chemical pollutants. The result is often respiratory ailments and other acute health and comfort effects.
Increased employee productivity is a growing incentive for maintaining optimum IAQ in buildings. The cumulative effect of a healthy and comfortable work environment can be quite enticing and may include improved performance, reduced absenteeism, fewer complaints, and lower turnover rates.
Although the connection between IAQ and productivity is difficult to quantify, research increasingly proves the relationship. A recent study by the International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby, Denmark demonstrated that office work performance could be improved by 5% to 10% through better IAQ.
Designing Smart To Manage Smart
There are many benefits to a healthy indoor environment, but part of what makes achieving exceptional IAQ and measuring it an imperfect science is that it is not always an intuitive process. In an effort to change this situation, guidance will soon be available to help fms who want to implement best practices, design elements, and strategies to improve IAQ.
ASHRAE Standard 62.1 and other codes provide minimum IAQ requirements for commercial buildings. To supplement the base stipulations and provide additional guidance, several organizations are collaborating on the publication of voluntary IAQ guidance designed to delineate best practices and simplify adoption of those through integrated design processes.
Set to debut in late spring 2009, “Indoor Air Quality: Best Practices for Design, Construction, and Commissioning” is being produced by ASHRAE in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors of North America (SMACNA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The publication is funded under a cooperative agreement between EPA and ASHRAE.
Andrew Persily, chair of the steering committee for this new guide, views the publication as a way to design for IAQ throughout the life cycle of a building.
“The guide will focus on design as a way to help make operations and maintenance more doable,” he explains. “If developers or owners want to focus on IAQ, they need to think about it at the very beginning of the process so key decisions related to IAQ can be integrated with other design decisions upfront. It is essential to determine project requirements and think about IAQ early on so there won’t be problems on the back end.”
The guide is intended for those who want to take the ASHRAE 62.1 requirements to the next level. It examines strategies in project management, such as establishing IAQ requirements, considering IAQ from the conceptual stage, and integrating those design ideas across the various disciplines. The upcoming guide also delves into specifics on design, construction, and commissioning for IAQ, whether it involves controlling for moisture, reducing the entry of outdoor contaminants, or restraining pollutants from indoor sources.
The guide focuses on both new buildings and renovations of existing ones. It is relevant for fms who might be involved in upgrading a building wing or floor and offers guidance on the best practices in numerous areas, from installing new furnishings and equipment to isolating construction zones from occupied ones.
Persily emphasizes the practical nature of the guide. “The guidance is less about ‘whiz-bang’ technology and more about good practices and good decisions,” he says.
The Green Connection
IAQ is often intricately linked to sustainability efforts, with the common goal of producing clean, healthy, and efficient indoor environments. Although the IAQ guidelines in the publication are voluntary, they come at a time when green building codes and regulations are ramping up.
Green building rating programs, such as LEED from USGBC and Green Globes system from the Green Building Initiative (GBI), include IAQ elements. Also, national efforts to develop new green building standards—such as ASHRAE Standard 189.1 (covering commercial buildings of all heights and residential buildings over three stories)—are under discussion and may include IAQ related provisions that exceed current minimum code requirements. Additionally, green building standards are in development by the GBI and ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials).
State and local governments are also establishing more regulations in this realm. California recently created the first state green building code, which is now available for voluntary use by municipalities in the state. However, later versions are intended to be enforced statewide. Local governments with aggressive green building programs containing IAQ provisions include Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; and Austin, TX.
Staying ahead of the curve on IAQ not only helps protect occupant health, but it is also a smart way for fms to keep pace with the quickly changing green codes and standards. And with the added benefit of protecting against potential liabilities and possibly improving productivity, it just seems to be the “healthy” choice.
Mackey is vice chair of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International and chief operating officer and partner for Stream Realty Partners, L.P. in Dallas, TX. He has more than 20 years of property and facilities management experience.