When nail salons are in the news, the coverage is rarely pretty. A 2015 New York Times investigation, for example, uncovered details about the industry’s underpaid workers—overwhelmingly immigrants—and their health complaints. The series prompted swift legislation in New York State. However, it also sparked backlash from salon owners who felt that the costly new mandates would harm their small businesses and that the series went too far in generalizing about their industry.
Lupita Montoya, an environmental engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder, is taking a different approach to the issue by involving both nail salon owners and workers from the start. At local nail salons, her team measured pollutants in the air generated through the use of nail polishes, polish removers, and artificial nail products. The researchers captured pollutants in specially designed vessels and quantified them using a variety of analytical techniques. Carmen Drahl spoke with Montoya—an immigrant herself—about the science and about working with salon communities to find solutions to indoor air pollution.
What sparked your interest in the air quality at nail salons?
My research expertise is in indoor air quality, but I’m also a first-generation scientist. I’m in many different spaces where I see workers exposed to compounds that probably are posing a hazard, yet we don’t know much about it because we rarely study these populations. When I walk into any nail salon, the first thing that impacts me is the smell. So knowing what the smell may mean—that likely there are high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds)—just makes me wonder what kinds of compounds those are and how they may be affecting the people that work there because they experience long-term exposure.
How did you find nail salons that would agree to be tested?
That was a real challenge. I spent a year visiting salons and talking to people about the possibility of taking some measurements, and it became evident quickly that people were not comfortable just saying yes.
I put fieldwork on the back burner for over a year until one of my undergraduate advisees—Feng Xiang, a first-generation student—asked me a question regarding my research. She said, “I have some friends who might be interested in helping you access some of these places.” I ultimately had several undergraduate students, all of them first generation, on the project. None of them had done research, but they had a personal interest in the work. They have connections to the nail salon industry. And that’s how we started.
What has your fieldwork found in terms of nail salon air quality?
Credit: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado BoulderBottles of nail polish like the one held by Lupita Montoya may emit volatile organic compounds into nail salons’ air.
We were measuring the BTEX family of compounds—benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes—using specially prepared canisters that capture VOCs for analysis by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. People study them in many different contexts, and some of them are carcinogenic. We did a comparison with two other studies of VOC levels in other workplaces to see where nail salons fall. We found that the measurements in the nail salons were often on par with reported measurements in oil refineries and auto garages. Another compound that was present was methyl methacrylate, or MMA. What was interesting about that is that MMA has been banned in Colorado. Because of allergic reactions in both customers and workers, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Methacrylate Producers Association have concluded that MMA in its liquid form should not be used in nail products. We followed up with questions for the workers. Even though it’s banned, you can still buy it in products for artificial nails. In some cases the workers prefer this compound over other, less hazardous ones because it’s easier to apply. So sometimes the practices of the workers are truly against their own interests.
Fragrances have been under fire for their toxicity lately and now the evidence is mounting that wearing deodorant and other simple acts of human existence – including breathing – may be the biggest source of air pollution in offices.
The preliminary research out of Purdue University in the US found that the chemistry of indoor air is constantly changing and that people might be the main source of volatile organic compounds in a modern office environment.
“The chemistry of indoor air is dynamic. It changes throughout the day based on outdoor conditions, how the ventilation system operates and occupancy patterns in the office,” Purdue University assistant professor of civil engineering Brandon Boor said.
For the research, the team of engineers came up with new precision ways of measuring and tracking volatile organic compounds in a Living Lab building.
It involves putting temperature sensors in each desk chair so that researchers know when people are coming and going, and a collection of sensors to track the flow of indoor and outdoor air through the ventilation system.
Sniffing out the human pollutants
A nose-like instrument was also used to “sniff” out airborne compounds in real time. It found that people leave behind many volatile compounds even after they have left the room.
Another key finding was that the more people in the room, the more VOCs were found in the air. Without appropriate ventilation, which can dilute the concentration of indoor pollutants, the levels of many compounds were found to be 10 to 20 times higher indoors than outdoors.
This is complicated by the level of pollutants in the outdoor environment, which people also have an effect on. The researchers believe that chemicals from self-care products such as deodorant, makeup, and hair spray may raise levels outdoors as they are dispelled outside by the ventilation system.
High-efficiency filtration systems were found to help keep down the concentration of pollutants in a building.
The purpose of the research is to identify all types of indoor air contaminants and recommend ways to design and operate buildings that control pollutant levels.
“If we want to provide better air quality for office workers to improve their productivity, it is important to first understand what’s in the air and what factors influence the emissions and removal of pollutants,” assistant professor Boor said.
At The Fifth Estate’s Happy Healthy office’s event earlier this year, air quality expert Adam Garnys from CETEC explained that perfumes and fragrances can cause a building to fail WELL accreditation, a health and wellbeing rating scheme.
“That’s from a rating scheme point of view, but from a real health point of view, certainly it does have an impact, I’ve banned them at home,” Mr Garnys said.
He said it’s better to look for the source of the odour rather than masking it.
“Fragrances are full of chemicals. Even some of the common ones like limonene – which is lemon oil – people have serious allergies to it. And do you need it? I guess that’s the question.”
There’s a great story about an Air Force general and his facility manager. When being presented with a PowerPoint about some facility issues, the general stated the following:
You’re air to me.
I need you to be there, but I don’t want to see you or think about you.
I just need to know, to believe, that you’re there.
However, if I am thinking about you, then we both have a problem.
Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is a serious problem for generals and non-generals. It is invisible to a human eye but can easily influence the health and productivity of a workforce. Studies show that air pollution-related illness results in roughly $150 billion in losses. Amazingly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that the concentration of pollutants indoors is often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors.
Better air means better decisions. Several years ago, researchers from Harvard University conducted a study to see how IAQ affects “knowledge workers.” The results showed that breathing better air led to significantly better decision-making.
Improving IAQ requires a bit of thought and commitment. Here are five actions that will make a real and noticeable difference.
1. Entrance matting: Improved IAQ can be as easy as adding entrance mats to your facility. It is a common misconception that the mats are only used to reduce risk of slips and falls. They also help prevent dirt and dust from getting into the building. It is crucial that mats throughout a building should be cleaned on a regular basis. Dirty mats only help spread pollutants in the facility.
2. Vacuuming frequencies: While it is clear that carpets serve to trap dust, walking over a dirty carpet actually contributes to the elevation of dust and other pollutants into the air. This is especially dangerous for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, people with asthma and individuals with difficulties breathing. It is key to employ proper vacuuming frequencies which vary depending on a facility’s size. It is also important to ensure that the cleaning crew uses the HEPA vacuums and commonly accepted cleaning practices.
3. Dusting practices: Dusting seems a very straightforward task at first thought. However, it is crucial that employees use proper equipment and techniques. Otherwise, they risk simply scattering the dust without any significant improvement to the surface. It is important that the cleaning crew uses a microfiber cloth which absorbs the dust and minimizes escaped particles. With a microfiber cloth there is no need to use any chemicals; a great benefit to tenants with allergies to chemicals.
4. HVAC maintenance: Maintenance of HVAC systems is a key factor to ensure healthy IAQ. If a company doesn’t have enough resources to invest in the new HVAC systems, there are other solutions to consider. For example, they can use an older system but increase the frequency of filter replacement. Another solution is to consider more effective filter options. However, the biggest problem in the industry is the lack of HVAC technicians. Many trade schools report their programs being under enrolled. This results in a decreasing supply of HVAC professionals. It may seem like an easy task to change a filter, but it becomes quite a challenge when there is not a specialist available to do it. This causes many facility teams to postpone their scheduled preventative maintenance for indefinite periods of time.
5. Cleaning of non-traditional surfaces: Today many businesses prefer to occupy the so-called “modern” office with the exposed pipes in the ceilings and other attributes resembling a city loft atmosphere. Those designs look trendy and attract younger employees. However, it is important to keep in mind that those nontraditional surfaces often require unique cleaning procedures as well. Otherwise, they end up being the biggest (and the fanciest) dust collectors in the building.
It is essential that industry professionals educate their customers on the impact cleaning services have on the productivity in the workplace. This is an impact that can be as important as the air we breathe.
Did you know that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 million Americans, including roughly seven million children, have asthma? It’s true, and those numbers have steadily risen in recent years.
Asthma is more than occasional wheezing or feeling out of breath during physical activity. Asthma is chronic and can lead to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fast breathing, and chest tightness, states the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In the 21st century, people spend significant time indoors at home, school or work, and indoor air environments could be triggers for asthma. Improving indoor air quality can help people breathe clearly. The AAFA notes that the following agents can adversely affect indoor air quality, potentially triggering asthma attacks.
Allergens such as mold, dust mites, pet dander and fur, and waste from insects or rodents thrive in many homes. Ensuring indoor air quality is high can cut back on the amount of allergens in the air. People with asthma can invest in an air purifier and vacuum regularly, being sure to use a HEPA-equipped appliance. Routinely replacing HVAC system filters can help prevent allergens from blowing around the house. Also, frequent maintenance of HVAC systems will ensure they are operating safely and not contributing to poor indoor air quality.
Mold can be mitigated by reducing moisture in a home. Moist environments in the kitchen and bathroom may promote mold growth. Ventilation is key to keep mold at bay.
Thirdhand smoke, or THS, may be unfamiliar to many people. A 2011 report published in Environmental Health Perspectives says THS is an invisible combination of gases and particles that can cling to clothing, cushions, carpeting, and other materials long after secondhand smoke has cleared from a room. Studies have indicated that residual nicotine levels can be found in house dust where people smoke or once smoked. Studies have indicated that smoke compounds can adsorb onto surfaces and then desorb back into air over time.
Keeping tobacco smoke out of a home can improve indoor air quality and personal health.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are gases released from commonly used products. These can include paints and varnishes, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, new furniture, and new carpet. People with asthma may find that VOCs can trigger attacks. Airing out items, reducing usage of products that are heavily scented and choosing low- or no-VOC products can help. Making cleaning products from baking soda, vinegar and liquid oil soap also can keep indoor air quality high.
Homeowners who plan to renovate their homes can consider using the appropriate specifications for HVAC systems to promote good indoor air, as well as address any other potential problems that may be compromising indoor air quality.
*Additional attendee registration is open to employees within the same company.
Pre-conference Workshops will be held on January 13, 2019.
“Cannabis! Fentanyl! Methampetamine! Oh My” Presented by Susan Kimball and Coreen Robbins
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
“Novel and Traditional Microbiological Methods for Common Indoor Microbial Investigations” Presented by Wei Tang
8:30 am – 12:30 pm
“Infection Prevention Considerations in Healthcare Design, Construction, and Maintenance” Presented by JJ Jenkins
8:30 am – 5:00 pm
“Indoor Air Quality Monitoring – A New Toolkit for the 21st Century” Presented by Louie Chang
8:30 am – 12:30 pm
Daily Conference Registration
Access to the full day’s technical sessions
Access to final papers and presentations
Eligibility for Continuing Education Credits
Admission to the AHR Expo, the world’s largest HVACR expo
Monday, January 14, 2019 ONLY
Tuesday, January 15, 2019 ONLY
Wednesday, January 16, 2019 ONLY
Spouse registration can only be purchased with a full three-day registration package. Spouses are not allowed entry into the IAQA Technical Program. This additional fee includes admission to:
AHR Expo (January 14 – 16)
Conference Lunch (January 14)
Welcome Reception (January 13)
Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony (January 14)
CANCELLATION POLICY: Cancellation requests must be sent in writing to email@example.com by January 14, 2019. Cancellations are subject to a $75 per person service fee that will be deducted from your refund. Refunds are not available after January 14, 2019, under any circumstances, but substitute attendees will be accepted.
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.