National Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month is observed annually in October. This month is dedicated to reminding Americans to take a look at their home and see how they can improve the quality of the air they breathe. While outside air pollution gets a lot of attention, it’s the air inside our homes that can be even more dangerous. Most people spend nearly 80% of their time indoors, so the quality of the air we breathe is very important.
What is Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor Air Quality refers to the air quality within buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of the occupants in the building. Studies conducted by the EPA show that indoor air can be 3 – 5 times more contaminated than outdoor air. This spike in air pollution may be due to modern day building practices. In an effort to be more energy efficient, today’s homes are built airtight with more insulation.
On the flipside, these less drafty homes no longer have natural ventilation to bring in fresh air. Everyday living provides an ongoing source for airborne contaminants like dirt, dust, and dander. These pollutants become trapped in your home due to poor ventilation and get recirculated by your air ducts.
Why is Indoor Air Quality Important?
Breathing quality indoor air is critical for good health. Common complaints related to poor indoor air quality include headaches, fatigue, nausea or irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Some people, including children, seniors and those with asthma and allergies may be more sensitive to indoor air pollutants, and their symptoms tend to be more serious.
What Contributes to Indoor Air Quality?
Volatile organic compounds
Particulates (from dirt and dust tracked in from outdoors)
How Can Air Duct Cleaning Improve your Indoor Air?
Air duct cleaning is a great way to address the air quality inside your home. Professional air duct cleaning can provide an evaluation of your home’s ducts. Through everyday occupancy, your home’s ducts can become clogged with dirt, dust and pet hair. When air can’t circulate through a system or when filters are especially dirty, they can become breeding grounds for mold and bacteria.
NADCA recommends having your air ducts inspected once a year and cleaned as needed. When it comes time to hire an air duct cleaning company, be sure to hire a NADCA-certified technician. This will ensure the job is done according to industry standards.
As the air turns cooler and leaves drop from the trees, it’s important to keep a few important fall safety tips in mind. With proper precautions and safety awareness, your family can enjoy that crisp autumn weather while avoiding some of the dangers that come with the season.
Fire Safety Tips for Fall
When the weather turns cold most people spend more time inside their homes using fireplaces, furnaces, and heaters to keep warm. There’s nothing quite as cozy as a fire, but it presents some safety hazards. Keep these tips in mind
Service Your Furnace
Before the cold autumn and winter weather sets in, be sure to call your heating and cooling company to service your furnace. A specialist should inspect the furnace to make sure everything is in working order and that there are no leaks.
Use Fireplaces Safely
Keep that fire in its proper place by using a fireplace screen to keep sparks from flying out of the fireplace. Never leave a burning fire unattended, and make sure a fire in a fireplace is completely out before going to bed.
Use Caution with Space Heaters
A space heater can be an effective way to warm up a chilly room, but it’s essential that you read the instructions on the unit before you use it. If your space heater requires venting, make sure you have vented it to the outdoors. Never use your stove or oven to heat your home; only use space heaters that are approved for this purpose. Always allow at least three feet of empty area around space heaters.
Reconsider Leaf Burning
According to information from the Environmental Protection Agency, burning leaves produces dangerous and cancer-causing chemicals. For this reason, homeowners should avoid disposing of leaves this way. If you decide to burn leaves, wear a protective mask. Burning leaves should only be attempted far away from a house or other structures on a homeowner’s property. Always check the weather forecast before starting to burn leaves. This activity should not be attempted in windy conditions.
Exercise Candle Caution
Candles are a great way to give a room that warm glow, but they can also cause fires. According to the National Candle Association, almost 10,000 home fires start with improper candle use. Never leave candles burning if you go out or go to sleep, and keep your candles away from pets and kids.
Change Smoke Alarm Batteries
Change the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when you turn back your clocks for Daylight Saving Time. Make sure to check the alarms with the new batteries installed. Check and replace any home fire extinguishers that have expired.
Safety Tips for Fall Driving
There’s nothing more beautiful than a fall drive, but this season brings some unique hazards for drivers. Being aware of these potential dangers can help keep you and your family safe and prevent accidents.
Be Aware of Poor Visibility
Falling leaves, while beautiful, can obscure your vision, as can rain and fog. Shorter days are part of the fall season, making it more difficult to see children playing or people walking and riding bicycles. Be aware of the limitations in your visibility, and slow down if you can’t see well. Use your dimmed headlights in bad weather with decreased visibility. If possible, try not to be on the roads when it’s hard to see.
Watch for Children
Children love to play in piles of leaves, so use extra caution where leaves are piled at curbside. In addition, the school bus will be making its rounds now that school is back in session. In addition to educating children about back-to-school safety, it’s important to stay vigilant as a driver.
Slow Down on Wet Pavement
In many areas of the country, rain is common during the autumn. If it’s raining, keep a safe distance from the car in front of you. Wet roads make it more difficult to stop. When wet leaves are on roadways, they make the pavement slippery, and it can be difficult for drivers to get good traction.
Be Prepared for Bright Sunlight
When sunrise occurs later in the morning, it can also present challenges for drivers. Have a pair of sunglasses in the vehicle to wear when the sun is bright is a good strategy. If it becomes too difficult to see because of bright sunlight or glare, a good strategy is for the driver to pull over until he or she can see again.
Watch Out for Ice
As the temperatures drop further at night, a driver will need to spend some extra time in the morning scraping frost off his or her vehicle. Shady spots on the roadway may be home to black ice, which a driver may not be aware of until his or her car starts to skid on it.
Safety Tips for Fall Boaters
According to a report from the US Coast Guard, autumn boating accidents are far more likely to be fatal than those that occur during the summer months. Although there are many more boating accidents in the summer season, boaters involved in accidents during the fall months are exposed to cold water and other weather hazards. Keep these tips in mind for safe autumn boating.
Be Prepared for Changing Weather
Since fall weather can change quickly, you should always be prepared for possible cold, windy, and wet weather even if the sun is shining. Stay closer to shore, so you can turn back if the weather changes. Bring appropriate clothing, such as warm coats, rain gear, and gloves.
Watch for Signs of Hypothermia
Small open boats combined with cold, wet weather can lead to possible hypothermia. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are a few of the signs you should know:
Shivering or trembling
General lack of coordination, including stumbling and dropping things
Drowsiness, confusion, and apathy
Mumbling and slurring of words
Weak pulse and shallow breathing
Tell Others About Your Trip
Make sure you tell a friend or family member your boating plan and your expected return time. There are fewer boaters in the fall to help in the case of an accident or emergency.
Always Wear Life Jackets
Wearing your life jacket, while always a smart move, is even more important in the fall. If you should accidentally fall overboard, the cold water will quickly drain away your strength.
Autumn Home Maintenance Safety Tips
Fall is the time for yard clean-ups and readying your house for the cold winter ahead. Keep these safety tips in mind as you work.
Look Up Before Pruning Trees
If you have decided that your yard needs to be spruced up by trimming your trees, be sure to look up and survey the area carefully before you start. Make careful note of where power lines are located before you set up your ladder so that it is positioned away from them.
Use Caution on Ladders
Wearing appropriate footwear is important when using a ladder; shoes or boots may be wet, causing you to slip as you climb the ladder. The ladder should be positioned on a flat surface before use. Be sure that the tools you are using are specifically designed for this purpose and are in good condition before starting work.
Clean Up Fallen Leaves
Keep your driveway and walkway clear of falling leaves. Wet leaves can create a hazard for pedestrians in the fall by making sidewalks slippery. Later in the season, snow may mix with leaves to increase the risk of falling. Homeowners should mulch or rake up fallen leaves and dispose of them according to local bylaws.
Safely Enjoy the Beauty of the Season
By keeping these important fall safety tips in mind, you can be sure you are doing everything you can to protect yourself and your family from seasonal dangers. This will leave your mind free to enjoy the beauty of this glorious season.
Mold is a common household nuisance and is found both inside and outside in varying amounts. For some people, mold and its spores cause very few problems, while for others it can be devastating—even life threatening. In the U.S., there are over two million children with chronic and other serious conditions that are at higher risk for the dangers that mold in their homes and schools can cause. This is due to their weakened immune systems that leave them more susceptible to infection and allow mold to have a more harmful impact. As many as one-third of the children in the U.S., including those who are considered to be “healthy,” are at risk for allergic reactions to mold. Babies that have been exposed to mold, even without incident, may be at a higher risk for developing allergies and even asthma as they get older, which is why mold exposure can be damaging even if no negative symptoms are immediately detected.
Symptoms of mold allergies are typically similar to those of other allergies, which can make it harder to determine the cause. These include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing, and coughing. However, symptoms can escalate to more serious problems such as respiratory and circulatory issues. Mold flourishes in warm, damp environments, which is why warm summer temperatures frequently stir up mold allergies. Make sure to stock the medicine cabinet with the appropriate tools and treatments for babies and small children in order to be prepared to treat any symptoms.
t is important for local health departments to take steps to educate families in their area on this issue to prevent easily avoidable dangers. The remainder of this blog include valuable tips and resources on mitigating health risks related to mold exposure.
Stopping Mold Before It Grows
Prevention is always easier than treatment, especially with mold. Once it gets started, some molds are more difficult to control and may require additional treatments and work. Local health departments should educate their community members on taking the following preventative measures to reduce health risks associated with mold exposure.
Reduce humidity in the home:
Because mold thrives in warm and wet conditions, try to keep dampness to a minimum. Install a dehumidifier if necessary. Open windows for ventilation, but close them when there are reports of higher humidity levels.
Keep houseplants to a minimum in rooms that may be at higher risk of mold growth, such as rooms with high moisture levels and low ventilation.
This is especially important in rooms that do not get visited often, such as the basement, where signs of mold growth can go undetected for longer periods of time.
Do not use carpeting in the bathroom, especially with children. Use washable mats or a towel on the floor instead. Dry the floor as soon as possible.
Bathrooms are particularly vulnerable to mold growth, because they often do not have windows, which makes ventilating the damp area more difficult. If there is a window, open it often to dry out the bathroom.
If there is an exhaust fan in the bathroom, turn it on as soon as the bath is done so that the room gets dried up quickly.
Other common areas for mold growth include the shower curtain and around the bathtub and the sinks.
Any appliances that require water are common places for leaks and mold growth. Be sure to inspect under refrigerators, icemakers, dishwashers, coffee makers, etc.
Repair any leaking pipes. Clean up any water immediately and use a fan to make sure that any moisture is dried.
Increase the drainage away from the house to protect against leaks.
Summer Toys: The Perfect Hiding Spot for Mold
Pool, bath, and teething toys are breeding grounds for mold, because they can hold a lot of moisture and harbor mold growth undetected for long periods of time. Local health departments should provide the following prevention and treatment tips to limit mold exposure for children engaging in summertime activities and during bath time.
During summer months, kids are playing with many moisture-laden toys to keep cool such as pool noodles, water guns, absorbent animals and balls, and all sorts of inflatable pool toys. Make sure these and other water-friendly toys are squeezed out and left out to dry before storing them after use.
Eliminate the risk by using alternative toys such as measuring cups, stacking blocks, and other items without places for water to hide. The advantage of these toys is the ability to toss them directly in the dishwasher after swimming or a bath.
Swimsuits and towels are also used and re-used frequently in the summertime. Do not leave either of these sitting in a ball somewhere. It is important to pick them up and spread them out in a ventilated or breeze spot so they can completely dry out before use.
Be sure to regularly wash suits, towels, and any other damp clothing.
For regular bath toys, one option is to plug the small holes with water-resistant glue. This keeps them from squeaking and/or shooting water but keeps them mold free.
Boil bath toys about once a week, and allow them to air dry completely.
Soak toys in white vinegar overnight to clean them. The vinegar odor will dissipate as it dries.
Teething toys can also harbor moisture for mold to grow. Squeeze all of the water or drool out of rubber or mesh teething toys and clean them using a damp cloth.
Teething and bath toys can be run through the sanitize cycle on the dishwasher and then allowed to air dry.
A Surprising Source of Mold
One of the most surprising sources of mold problems can be found in children’s sippy cups/water bottles, used increasingly often during summer months as a source of hydration. Many people do not completely disassemble sippy cups when they are cleaning them, greatly increasing the potential for mold growth. Local health departments should provide the following cleaning steps for sippy cups/ water bottles to minimize and eliminate mold growth:
If there is a rubber or plastic ring on the lid of the sippy cup, make sure to pull it out and rinse under it carefully.
Look for sippy cups with solid, one-piece lids, but make sure to clean the spout or drinking straw as well.
All of the cups and parts can be washed in the dishwasher. Make sure that everything is completely dry before reassembling them.
Disposable water bottles should not be reused, not only because of the risk of mold but because the plastic can leach into the water and can be harmful to a child’s health.
Metal water bottles are good because they keep drinks cooler and are easy to sanitize in the dishwasher.
Whenever in doubt over whether mold was completely cleaned from a toy, it is best to be safe and throw it out.
The Critical Role of Local Health Departments
Families with young children should be able to enjoy cooling off in the summer heat risk-free. Unfortunately, many parents and guardians are unaware of the hidden dangers that lurk in the nooks and crannies of their child’s toys. As a result, it is vital that local health departments provide ongoing and visible guidance to highlight the various health risks associated with mold and how to protect their child from exposure. For example, local health officials can disseminate the facts and tips included in this blog via their websites and social media pages, or by engaging in traditional community outreach (e.g., distributing pamphlets, one-pagers).
In the March 1942 issue of the journal Modern Hospital, Charles F. Neergaard, a prominent New York City hospital design consultant, published a layout for a hospital inpatient department that was so innovative he copyrighted it. The plan held two nursing units—groups of patient rooms overseen by a single nursing staff—in a single building wing. For each unit, a corridor provided access to a row of small patient rooms along a long exterior wall and to a shared service area between the two corridors.
The feature that made his plan so innovative—and therefore risky? It included rooms that had no windows.
A windowless room hardly seems daringly innovative nowadays, but in the 1940s it was a shocking proposal for a patient wing. It violated a long-lived understanding of what, exactly, the role of the hospital building should be in terms of promoting health.
For nearly two centuries, hospital designers had based their layouts on a fundamental assumption: In order to remain disease-free and health-giving, hospital spaces required direct access to sunlight and fresh air. This rule was the product of a centuries-old belief that disease could be spread by, or perhaps even directly caused by, dark, stagnant spaces where bad air—smelly, vitiated, stagnant, particulate-laden air—accumulated.
In the late 18th century, this correlation was statistically certain. Epidemics always hit the tenants of crowded, impoverished urban districts harder than the inhabitants of airier, wealthier neighborhoods. Patients in large urban hospitals suffered cross-infections and secondary infections far more frequently than patients in rural or small-town hospitals. It was common knowledge that if windowless rooms didn’t directly breed disease, they bred the conditions that led to disease.
Given this correlation, before the 20th century, every single room within a hospital typically had access to the outdoors. Corridors had windows. Linen closets had windows. In some hospitals even the ventilation ducts and enclosures for plumbing pipes and risers had windows. Windows in patient rooms and operating rooms were so large that the glare caused problems—keeping patients awake and causing momentary blindness in surgeons during operations.
Late 19th-century and early 20th-century advances in medical theories and practices altered, but did not erase, a faith in windows. With the development of germ theory, sunlight and fresh air had new purposes. Experiments proved that ultraviolet light was germicidal. So windows of clear glass, or even of special “vita-glass” that did not block the UV rays, were a means of surface decontamination.
Similarly, tuberculosis sanatoria records proved that simple exposure to fresh air could be curative. The hospital building itself was a form of therapy. In a 1940 issue of the architectural journal Pencil Points, Talbot F. Hamlin confidently noted that “the quality of the surroundings of the sick person may be as important in the cure as the specific therapeutic measures themselves.”
But surroundings were important, partly, because of who went to hospitals in the first place. Indeed, until the late 19th century, medical treatment was not the reason to go to a hospital—poverty was. The vast majority of 19th-century hospital patients were charity cases—sick people who could not afford a doctor’s house call, had no family to care for them, and had no place else to go. A patient would occupy the same bed in a hospital ward—which housed anywhere from half a dozen to 30 patients—for weeks, sometimes even months. The doctor made rounds once a day. Nurses provided food, changed bandages, cleaned, and changed linens—but provided very little in terms of hands-on treatment. The hospital’s scrupulously clean, bright, airy rooms were an environmental antidote to the tenement surroundings from which impoverished patients came.
But the population of hospitals changed in the first decades of the 20th century. Medical advances, urban growth, and philanthropic transformations turned hospitals into a new kind of institution—where persons of all classes went to get cutting-edge treatment. Anesthesia and asepsis made hospital surgeries not only safer but also more bearable. New equipment like x-ray machines, ophthalmoscopes, and cardiographs improved diagnostic and therapeutic options. Bacteriological lab technicians could identify pathogens with a certainty undreamed of during the preceding era of symptomatic diagnosis. By the early 20th century, what happened in hospitals was increasingly about medical procedures and efficient workflow, not the ostensible healthiness of the environment in itself.
These changes made the limitations of the earlier “therapeutic” hospital designs glaringly apparent. In order to provide a window in every room, buildings could not be wider than two rooms deep; this inevitably required multiple long narrow wings. Such rambling structures were expensive to build, prohibitively expensive to heat, light, and supply with water, and inefficient and labor-intensive to operate. Food reached the patients cold after being trucked from a distant central kitchen; patients requiring operations were wheeled through numerous buildings to the surgical suite.
Hospital designers thus began to arrange practitioners, spaces, and equipment into a more effective layout. Catchwords changed from “light” and “air” to “efficiency” and “flexibility.” An emphasis on efficiency rapidly took over the utilitarian areas of the hospital; time and motion studies determined layouts and locations of kitchens, laundry, and central sterile supplies. Diagnostic and treatment spaces were re-designed to establish efficient, but aseptically safe, paths for the movement of patients, nurses, technicians, and supplies.
But, initially, it left the design of inpatient departments unaltered.
Hospital designers and practitioners worried that patient areas designed for efficiency, not healthiness, would prolong treatment, impede recovery, or even cause deaths. In a 1942 issue of Modern Hospital, Lt. Wilber C. McLin considered it “unthinkable even to consider the possibilities of applying time and motion studies to the methods of direct patient care.” Inpatient departments remained sacrosanct temples of light and air.
By the 1940s, therefore, most hospital buildings were odd mixtures of efficiently arranged medical treatment spaces and inefficiently arranged nursing units. Nurses trudged up and down long, open wards that held 20 or more patients, or long, double-loaded corridors that connected smaller (six-, four- or two-bed) wards and private rooms. Service areas were at the far end of that walk; getting even basic supplies was a long hike. Pedometers proved that the daily distance was best counted in miles; some nurses averaged 8-10 per shift. In 1939, prominent Philadelphia doctor Joseph C. Doane drily observed that “some hospitals are apparently planned on the erroneous theory that nurses wing their way from distant service rooms to far off beds without incurring fatigue.”
This was the design dilemma that confronted Neergaard, an iconoclastic rising star in the brand-new profession of “hospital consultant” (doctors who advised building committees and architects on best practices). He proposed streamlining nursing unit design, keeping windows in the inviolable patient rooms, but prioritizing efficiency over direct access to sunlight and fresh air in the adjacent service rooms. His plan allowed two different nursing units (groups of patients overseen by one head nurse) to share the same windowless central service rooms, reducing spatial redundancy.
Neergaard calculated that this “double pavilion plan” required only two-thirds of the floor area of a traditional nursing unit layout. It also moved the service rooms closer to the patient rooms, drastically reducing a nurse’s daily travels. His design was a first foray into treating the hospital as if it were any other building. The structure was a tool, facilitating the delivery of medical care, not a therapy in itself.
Neergaard knew his ideas would be contentious. In 1937, his presentation at an American Hospital Association convention prompted the prominent hospital architects Carl A. Erickson and Edward F. Stevens to resign from a committee rather than be seen as supporting Neergaard’s proposals. One prominent hospital architect called the double pavilion plan “essentially a slum.”
Neergaard’s ideas, however, won out. Rising costs and decreasing revenue sources made reduction of hospital construction and operational budgets a fiscal imperative. Centralized design reduced the amount of expensive exterior wall construction, facilitated centralization of services, and minimized nurse staffing requirements by reducing travel distances. By the 1950s, with the advent of antibiotics and improved aseptic practices, the medical establishment also believed that patient healthiness could be maintained regardless of room design. Some doctors even preferred the total environmental control offered by air conditioning, central heating, and electric lighting. Windows were no longer necessary to healthy hospitals, and by the 1960s and 1970s even windowless patient rooms appeared.
The efficient, inhuman, and monotonous buildings of the second half of the 20th century bear witness to the extent to which hospital design became a tool to facilitate medicine rather than a therapy in itself. Today, a stay in a hospital room is endured, not enjoyed.
The pendulum, however, is still swinging. In 1984, hospital architect Roger Ulrich published an article that had one clear and influential finding: Patients in hospital rooms with windows improved at a faster rate and in greater percentage than did patients in windowless rooms.
TAMPA (FOX 13) – A day at the office could be making some people sick. And when businesses have a problem, many call Francisco Aguirre’s company PureAir Control Services in Clearwater to fix it.
Think of them as sick building sleuths.
“‘Sick building syndrome’ is a term used to describe a combination of non-specific ailments that are temporarily associated with the workplace,” Francisco said. “I have seen buildings that are brand new, and they have not even been finished for occupancy and they are already experiencing indoor air quality problems.”
Discomfort can be caused by bacteria, fungi, dust, and believe it or not, lights.
“Lights can also give you headaches, watery eyes and things like that,” Aguirre explained.
But there could be something more to some people’s symptoms.
Dr. Richard Lockey, an indoor air quality expert and director of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida, believes there are other contributing factors.
“We have found that buildings are much cleaner in which people work than their own homes,” Lockey told us. “Some homes are so filthy that we can’t believe it when we go in and test what’s in the home. Yet people don’t complain about their homes, they complain about the building. So there’s a disconnect there.”
According to the World Health Organization, a third of all buildings have air quality concerns. But Dr. Lockey has a word of caution.
“It’s important for physicians and other healthcare professionals to properly evaluate these patients so you don’t inappropriately accuse a builder or owner of a building of something that doesn’t exist,” he said.
In the end, whatever you think is making you sick at work could be real or imagined, but both experts agree that poor air filtration in the workplace and at home can lead to some allergy-like symptoms.
Be sure to replace filters regularly, and make sure all ventilation systems are working properly.
Current research from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has found that by-products produced by bacteria consuming dead human skin flakes emit urine-like and body odor types of smells that are distributed through a building via the HVAC system.
The study was conducted under the leadership of Dr. Lai Ka-man, Associate Professor of the Department of Biology at HKBU. Dr. Lai’s team revealed that human skin flakes (skin squames), which are naturally shed, can be returned into the HVAC system’s air handling units (AHU), accumulate and become a food source for the bacteria living within.
It is estimated that a single human can shed between 30,000-40,000 skin flakes every hour, or close to a million over a 24-hour period [source: Boston Globe]! Some of these cells aggregate with other microscopic compounds to settle on surfaces into what we commonly call “dust”. Other airborne skin squames have been found to absorb UV radiation and ozone then safely degrade. However, the HKBU study found that a significant number of skin squames can populate the inside of the AHU even when filters are in use and no visible signs of dust are present.
How are the odors produced?
Skin cells consist of keratins that are structural proteins. They also contain other microbial nutrients like fatty acids, lipids and other natural metabolites. The study found that Keratins consumed by bacteria are broken down to ammonium. When limited amounts of carbon are available in the environment it can lead to excessive amounts of ammonium being emitted which can lead to a urine-like or cat’s litter box smell. Further, when other nutrients from skin squames are also consumed by bacteria they can degrade into various volatile short-chain fatty acids that produce the smell of human body odor or what is sometimes referred to as “dirty sock syndrome”.
“Skin flakes, a common constituent in dust flora of indoor environments, can have ozone reducing capabilities by oxidation. However, their elevated concentrations within HVAC systems may be an odor-causing nuisance, and problematic from a hygienic point of view.” Says Dr. Rajiv Sahay, Director of Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory at Pure Air Control Services, “These cells nurture several microbiomes which can adversely impact healthy living. We have noticed higher concentrations of these particulates in HVAC systems in comparison to other building locations while investigating indoor contaminants.”
The HKBU team also investigated and compared microbial samples from AHU’s with and without odor complaints. After studying the biological properties of the isolated bacteria, they reported that the Staphylococcus species emitted from the HVAC system to be one of the odor causing units.
How do these odors affect building occupants?
“Air quality in indoor environments is associated with people’s health and well-being. These odors can lead to discomfort and low productivity” Says Dr. Lai, “Odor problems are due to a dirty air conditioning system – Therefore, cleaning the system is the general practice to eliminate the odor.”
A recent Harvard study backs up the findings that poor indoor air quality can lead to lower cognitive function and productivity. In addition, odors, if severe enough, can also cause allergic-type reactions like itchy eyes, nasal drips and even headaches.
Minimizing the Odors and Risks
As Dr. Lai pointed out cleaning the HVAC system on a regular basis can reduce both skin squames and bacteria. But not all cleaning methods are the same. Conventional AHU and Duct cleaning only mitigate a small portion of the factors that contribute to the accumulation of dust and microbial proliferation. Consider that the pump/spray method of AHU coil cleaning uses very low pressure to spray chemicals on the surface of the evaporator coil fins. This is a quick way to temporarily reduce odors, but what about deeper inside of the coil and the rest of the interior of the AHU? Steam coil cleaning is a far more effective and thorough method to ensure the whole interior of the AHU, as well as completely throughout the coils are completely disinfected.
“Our exclusive PURE-Steam coil cleaning process utilizes high temperature, low pressure steam to hygienically clean the entire AHU.” Says Alan Wozniak, President of Pure Air Control Services, “It’s the only Green Clean Institute certified eco-friendly HVAC cleaning process out there!”
Downstream of the AHU is the ductwork. Traditional duct cleaning generally is done by quickly brushing and vacuuming the ducts and vents. This process can actually stir up debris and recirculate through the building for a period time. Again, a more careful and hygienic method is recommended. One that employs containment, HEPA vacuums and even disinfecting mists like Pure Air’s PURE-Decon service. It is recommended that AHU and Duct cleaning be performed on a yearly basis.
Finally, specific filters that are regularly changed can help capture airborne skin flakes before they enter the AHU.
“The size of skin squames is generally larger than 10 micrometers (or 0.001 centimeters).” Dr. Lai says, “A filter that can effectively capture particles less than this size should help improve the odor problem.”
In conclusion, when ammonia and body odor types of smells arise the likely culprit is skin flakes and bacteria in the HVAC system. Best practice is to test the conditions of building and systems to establish the nature and severity of the issue. Then a plan can be established to remediate the situation. Of course, maintaining a proactive, hygienic, HVAC and Duct cleaning program will always help to ensure skin squames and bacteria are kept to a minimum while indoor air quality remains optimal.
The study entitled “Skin squames contribute to ammonia and volatile fatty acid production from bacteria colonizing in air-cooling units with odor complaints” was published in Indoor Air (DOI: 10.1111/ina.12439). Another related study entitled “Viable airborne microbial counts from air-cooling units with and without complaints of urine and body odors” was published in Aerobiologia (DOI: 10.1007/s10453-016-9466-y).