Exposing Indoor Air Quality: Monitoring And Energy Efficiency Are Helping

Harmful pollutants are spewing everywhere, including indoors. And while the focus is on those external emissions created by power plants, industrial facilities and automobiles, there is solid reason to turn inward: The level of volatile organic compounds — gases from solids and liquids — is 10 times greater indoors than it is outdoors.

That’s according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which adds that dirty air, generally, inside of commercial and residential buildings is two-to-five times greater than what is outside. And that is leading to health problems. In extreme cases, think of burning coal or wood for indoor cooking and heating in developing countries. The good news is that the technologies exist to monitor air quality and to improve energy efficiencies.

“As we learn to live a healthier lifestyle by eating better, we can also live a healthier lifestyle by breathing better,” Vasileios Nasis, chief executive of the Netronix Group in Philadelphia told this writer. In doing so, he adds that “You can also contribute to energy savings.”

As for Netronix, its relatively inexpensive instruments are installed within a business or home that gather data associated with air quality, all in real time. That information is then stored in the company’s cloud software, which it monitors for a monthly fee. At the appropriate times, managers or consumers are notified to shift their usage patterns. That not only cuts down on electricity bills and pollutant levels but it can also improve the performance of existing equipment.

Green schools, for instance, say that they use a third less energy than conventionally-constructed schools, which cuts down on their utility costs and improves the air that students breathe. Ditto for hospitals, which must have sterile environments. By installing devices that can measure air quality, managers are notified of problems before they happen.

The Payback

There’s a range of solutions with quick paybacks. Creating real change means controlling demand at large plants and commercial buildings. Experts can study a facility’s technologies and operating protocols and determine where the pitfalls lie. They can then provide a good range of retrofits and the potential savings that those innovations will produce.

The World Health Organization is actively addressing air pollution. Worldwide, it says that a third of cardiovascular diseases can be linked to indoor and outdoor pollution while 29% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deaths are tied to poor indoor air quality.

William J. Fisk, with the Indoor Environment Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, writes that the annual savings and productivity gains would be greater than $200 billion. That includes everything from reduced respiratory disease to improvements in worker performance. 

“It is very difficult to control air quality outside,” says Netronix’s Nasis, “but we can control it inside. In the process, we can save tons of energy while we also save money and preserve the environment.” 

One of the most common pursuits today is for buildings to get LEED certified to ensure that commercial construction meets modern standards. Such standards look at how buildings are fueled as well as water efficiency and indoor air quality.

According to the Green Building Council, offices consume 70% of the electricity load in the United States. They also account for roughly 38% of all greenhouse gas emissions and over the next 25 years, CO2 emissions from those structures are projected to grow faster than any other sector, at 1.8% a year.

The companies that occupy those structures are going green to improve their brands. But they are also doing so because they can save money. One of the easiest ways to achieve environmental and energy savings is through lighting retrofits.

Consider Nissan Motor Co., which is allocating more capital to energy efficiency: Altogether, the company says that it has implemented $2.6 million worth of energy efficiency projects since 2012 while saving $2.1 million a year and preventing tons of carbon releases.

Hilton Hotels and Amazon’s Whole Foods, furthermore, are helping out each other. Hilton, for example, suggested to Whole Foods that it use more natural lighting whereas Whole Foods thought Hilton ought to use more advanced lighting that dims when no one is around.

When it comes to cutting emissions, most of the focus is on external sources such as power plants. But it is also imperative that commercial and residential structures become more energy efficient, which will have an equally profound impact on the environment and on workers’ health.  

Article Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2018/05/14/exposing-indoor-air-quality-monitoring-and-energy-efficiency-are-helping/#77ad216f6eb0

Finding the Link Between Employee Performance and Building Health

Consider this. You’re the CEO of a small software startup getting ready to launch your first big app. A significant amount of money and time has been invested into the project. The old saying, “You only have one chance to make a first impression” is keeping you up at night. But have you thought about your Indoor Air Quality(IAQ) relative to the project and employee performance? Of course not. But maybe you should.

Employee Performance Linked to Building Health

Optimized IAQ Improves Cognitive Function & Employee Performance

That hypothetical CEO depends on employee performance being at the highest levels. Mistakes are not an option. When those programmers are debugging the new application, they must be focused. Can building conditions such as ventilation rates, temperature, humidity and odors affect workers’ cognitive abilities? You bet it can! And a recent series of studies has found the correlation.

Joseph Allen, along with colleagues from Harvard University, Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical conducted a two-phase study to see if better IAQ can influence employee performance. They studied a worker’s ability to process information, make strategic decisions and respond to crises under different indoor environmental conditions.

“We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, yet we spend almost all of our time thinking about outdoor air pollution,” said Joseph Allen, director of the three-year-old Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, which has studied the benefits of keeping employees in top form. “What we’re doing here is quantifying what people intuitively know. When you’re stuck in a conference room that’s too hot, there’s no ventilation, you don’t perform as well.”

Phase one of the double-blind study tested 24 “knowledge workers” (managers, designers, and architects) over a two-week period at the Syracuse Center of Excellence. These workers were required to basically be themselves, performing their normal 9-5 work routine in this highly-controlled environment. Unbeknownst to them, the researchers shifted the IAQ conditions from a minimal accepted standard baseline to an optimized environment. At the end of each day, as the conditions were gradually improved, the subject’s decision making performance was tested using a standardized cognitive function test. The results were encouraging.

The research team found that optimized IAQ led to significantly better performance among all participants. Higher test scores were recorded across nine cognitive functions when ventilation rates were increased (and finally doubled), VOCs (chemical cleaners, dry erase makers, building materials, etc.) were decreased and carbon dioxide was reduced. The most remarkable gains were made how workers plan, stay focused and strategized.

The second phase of the study moved from the lab into the real world. 100 knowledge workers were tested for cognitive function in 10 IAQ tested buildings throughout the U.S. Six of the buildings were “green certified”. The study found that workers in the green buildings scored higher on the range of tests. Along with the improved IAQ factors of ventilation, VOCs, and CO2, workers in environments with comfortable temperature and humidity levels also performed better.

“What should leaders and building managers take away from these findings?” says Mr. Allen, “The short answer is that better air quality in your office can facilitate better cognitive performance among your employees.”

What Can Be Done to Improve IAQ and Performance?

Even though most executives/managers focus on energy costs, and rightly so, 90% of a business’ operating costs tied to its workers. In fact, one study reported that building managers tend to overestimate energy costs by multiple factors!

Managers should then look at IAQ indicators to see where improvements can made. Building scientists that specialize in IAQ testing can be called upon to conduct a survey of a facility and report the findings. Data from such a study can be used to correct any deficiencies found, as well as, optimize areas that could potentially cause issues. With the prevalence of deferred maintenance programs cost is always an issue. However, the cost of improving IAQ is far lower than most think.

The joint Harvard study modeled costs with four different types of HVAC systems in different climate zones with different energy sources in the U.S. The estimates show that doubling ventilation rates would be less than $40 per person, per year. When energy-efficient systems are used, the cost would be less than $10 per person per year. The study also used the benchmarked cognitive function testing results and paired the percentile increase in scores to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate the BENEFITS to employee performance from doubling ventilation rates are $6,500 per person per year! This doesn’t include other health benefits from hygienically cleaning HVAC systems to avert Sick Building Syndrome and the human health issues it can cause, such as allergies, asthma and absenteeism.

Moving forward it would be a good practice for managers to incorporate IAQ health impacts into their cost-benefit calculations when planning. When employee performance/productivity benefits are clearly shown the C-suite can then see the correlation between spending to enhance facilities and reducing human resource costs.

Hopefully, our hypothetical CEO and his software company are open minded to making improvements based on research like this. Maybe they will even develop the next IAQ testing app.

Article Source: http://pureaircontrols.com/iaq-employee-performance-linked/

A DNA-Based Innovation to Identify Molds and Bacteria in Homes

Numerous health problems in the United States are associated with mold (i.e., fungi) in homes, schools, and businesses.  With a technology developed by EPA researchers, these problems can be identified quickly and accurately, allowing illnesses to be diagnosed and treated more effectively.  Perhaps more important, use of this technology may prevent disease occurrence.

EPA’s DNA-based process can identify and quantify more than 130 species of toxic molds and potentially pathogenic fungi in the environment.  Fungi and bacteria cause or contribute to many health problems, including infections, gastroenteritis, ulcers, asthma, allergies, and sinusitis.  This invention may have applications in research related to therapeutics and diagnostics for these illness.  Additionally, this technology can be used to:

  • Determine whether an environment is abnormally mold contaminated.
  • Test homes for potentially pathogenic molds
  • Test water for pathogenic molds.
  • Monitor hospitals to prevent nosocomial mold infections.
  • Rapidly diagnose mold infections so that treatment can begin earlier.
  • Monitor fold and drugs for mold contamination.
  • Measure the risk for mold associated with allergic and asthmatic disease.
  • Diagnose chronic rhinosinusitis.
  • Monitor crops for mold pathogens in an integrated pest management program, thus reducing the use of pesticides.

This method provides real-time results that are more accurate and less time-consuming than previous technologies.  EPA-licensed commercial laboratories in the US have used this method to provide testing services for their clients.

This technology was licensed by 15 companies, 11 of which are small US businesses.  The first license was issued in 2000, and word spread quickly about the technology, leading to many more non-exclusive licenses within a few short years.  The patent didn’t issue until 2002, after there were already several licenses in place.

Mold Complaints at Grant Sawyer State Building Prompt Repairs

Grant Sawyer State Office Building (Screengrab/Google Streetview)

Crews are replacing heating and ventilation equipment in the Grant Sawyer state offices in Las Vegas after a report cited a possible link between leaks in the system and the presence of low concentrations of two species of mold in the building’s dust.

The report came after at least 10 state employees working at the Las Vegas building filed worker’s compensation complaints in November alleging that mold caused “building-related symptoms,” including respiratory illness and headaches, that typically go away when people leave the contaminated environment.

The investigation, led by Reno-based environmental medicine specialist Dr. James Craner, found that leaky valves in the heating and air conditioning system may have allowed water to drip into the ceiling tiles, creating a friendly environment for mold spores to grow.

Though the moldy dust on its own doesn’t prove that the leaks created a contamination, fixing the HVAC system and cleaning the “presumably mold-contaminated carpet” of dust could clear the low levels of mold, the report said.

“These HVAC leaks and occupant health complaints are postulated to be the same as those that occurred in the mid-1990s,” Craner wrote on April 4, referring to a prior “sick building syndrome” case that plagued the state office building. The mold likely settled in the carpet and could be inhaled by employees while they walk or conduct office maintenance, the report read.

Tests on the air’s mold concentrations came back nonharmful, and samples of settled dust showed very low concentrations. The two mold species detected at higher concentrations throughout the building included the Stachybotrys chartarum, which is “highly associated with building-related symptoms,” the report said.

Nevada Department of Administration Director Patrick Cates wrote in an update Friday that the state was following Craner’s recommendations to replace the HVAC valves throughout the building by May 5.

The department also plans by July to deep-clean the building’s carpets and other surfaces that may have been contaminated by mold.

Four months after the deep cleaning, the department will retest for mold, Cates said.

“If the tests continue to show atypical molds, we will continue with further investigations and remediation measures until these concerns are resolved,” Cates wrote.

Severe reactions include fever and shortness of breath.

Article Source: https://www.reviewjournal.com/local/local-las-vegas/downtown/mold-complaints-at-grant-sawyer-state-building-prompt-repairs/

Lead crisis: Flint braces as Michigan shuts down free bottled water sites

After Michigan’s governor announced the state will stop providing free bottled water to residents of Flint — afflicted four years ago by lead-tainted drinking water — churches and charities said Monday they’re bracing for a surge in people seeking help.

“Normally we give out whatever a family wants,” said Bill Quarles, a deacon of the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church. “But now we may have to limit that until more supplies come in.”

The church has been handing out bottled water for the past three years, and typically sees about 100 to 200 cars a week. With fewer resources for residents, First Trinity isn’t sure what to expect when the cars come through beginning Tuesday.

Related

Much-needed donations from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Baltimore, Maryland, aren’t expected at the church until the weekend — and contributions have already been dwindling as water crisis no longer grabs daily headlines.

“The country thinks that the water is fine,” Quarles added, “but the residents and the city of Flint do not trust what’s being said.”

The state’s decision to close the four remaining bottled water stations comes as Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday that strides have been made to reverse the high levels of lead that were found in the water supply.

Volunteers distribute bottled water to help combat the effects of the crisis when the city’s drinking water became contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan on March 5, 2016.Jim Young / Reuters file

The city’s water has tested below the federal lead and copper limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for about two years, state officials said. Levels of 4 ppb were recorded in Flint during the first three months of 2018.

“We have worked diligently to restore the water quality and the scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” Snyder said in a statement, adding that state taxpayers have given more than $350 million to the struggling city, in addition to $100 million from the federal government.

“We will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward,” Snyder said.

Residents and local officials criticized the move, noting that many in the city of 100,000 remain distrustful after their water supply was contaminated with lead for 18 months. The contamination happened in 2014 and 2015 when officials of the financially strapped city switched to using river water that wasn’t properly treated.

That untreated river water leached lead from pipes into Flint’s drinking supply, and later tests showed high lead levels in some local schoolchildren.

The state of Michigan settled a lawsuit last year agreeing to spend $87 million to rip up and replace miles of waterlines leading to at least 18,000 Flint homes by Jan. 1, 2020. More than 6,200 homes have had their pipes replaced so far, Snyder said Friday.

The state will continue to provide free water filters, cartridges and water testing kits until all the lines have been replaced. In addition, a lawsuit deal with the state and school groups reached Monday could provide $4.1 million toward helping Flint children get necessary tests and screenings to determine any special education needs.

Kristin Totten of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said the agreement is a “critical first step,” but there’s still more litigation over Flint children with disabilities.

Direct access to clean water, meanwhile, remains a serious concern.

“Over the past few weeks, residents of Flint have been expressing their great anxiety over the potential end to the supply of bottled water,” Mayor Karen Weaver wrote in a letter to state officials on Thursday. “Free bottled water should be provided to the people of Flint until the last known lead-tainted pipe has been replaced.”

The fallout from the contaminated water crisis prompted criminal charges last year against several state officials for involuntary manslaughter after a Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Flint area led to the deaths of at least 12 people in 2014 and 2015.

Among those implicated are Nick Lyon, the state’s health chief, and Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical officer charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer. Preliminary hearings were held last month in their cases.

 Related

Flint resident Barbara Davis, a secretary at Mt. Calvary Church, one of the houses of worship providing free bottled water, said there remains acrimony toward the state.

“There’s still the concern, there’s still the frustration,” Davis said. “The water still needs to be provided by the state until people are comfortable with what they’re saying. After everything, you begin to be mistrustful of what we’re being told.”

Flint resident Melissa Mays — who filed the lawsuit that led to a court-ordered agreement under which the state and federal governments are paying to replace pipes made from lead or galvanized steel — said she still cooks with bottled water.

“My water stinks. It still burns to take a shower,” she told The Associated Press. “There’s no way they can say it’s safe.”

Flint resident Mary Corbin told MLive.com that she also uses water in bottles for more than just drinking or cooking, but her personal hygiene as well.

“I think it’s really cruel what they’re doing to us as a city, as a whole,” she said. “We’ve been struggling over four years almost. It’s just cold-hearted — now they’re taking our drinking water away from us.”

Article Source: https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/flint-water-crisis/lead-crisis-flint-braces-michigan-shuts-down-free-bottled-water-n863946