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Indoor air quality

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is the air quality within and around buildings and structures. IAQ is known to affect the health, comfort and well-being of building occupants. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to Sick Building Syndrome, reduced productivity and impaired learning in schools.

Second-hand smoke is tobacco smoke which affects people other than the 'active' smoker. Second-hand tobacco smoke includes both a gaseous and a particulate phase, with particular hazards arising from levels of carbon monoxide (as indicated below) and very small particulates (fine particular matter at especially PM2.5 size, and PM10) which get into the bronchioles and alveoles in the lung. The only certain method to improve indoor air quality as regards second-hand smoke is to eliminate smoking indoors.

In many cases, if materials have failed to dry out several days after the suspected water event, mold growth is suspected within wall cavities even if it is not immediately visible. Through a mold investigation, which may include destructive inspection, one should be able to determine the presence or absence of mold. In a situation where there is visible mold and the indoor air quality may have been compromised, mold remediation may be needed. Mold testing and inspections should be carried out by an independent investigator to avoid any conflict of interest and to insure accurate results; free mold testing offered by remediation companies is not recommended.

One of the most acutely toxic indoor air contaminants is carbon monoxide (CO), a colourless and odourless gas that is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Common sources of carbon monoxide are tobacco smoke, space heaters using fossil fuels, defective central heating furnaces and automobile exhaust. By depriving the brain of oxygen, high levels of carbon monoxide can lead to nausea, unconsciousness and death. According to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), the time-weighted average (TWA) limit for carbon monoxide (630-08-0) is 25 ppm.

Chlorinated drinking water releases chloroform when hot water is used in the home. Benzene is emitted from fuel stored in attached garages. Overheated cooking oils emit acrolein and formaldehyde. A meta-analysis of 77 surveys of VOCs in homes in the US found the top ten riskiest indoor air VOCs were acrolein, formaldehyde, benzene, hexachlorobutadiene, acetaldehyde, 1,3-butadiene, benzyl chloride, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, acrylonitrile, and vinyl chloride. These compounds exceeded health standards in most homes.

Legionellosis or Legionnaire's Disease is caused by a waterborne bacterium Legionella that grows best in slow-moving or still, warm water. The primary route of exposure is through the creation of an aerosol effect, most commonly from evaporative cooling towers or showerheads. A common source of Legionella in commercial buildings is from poorly placed or maintained evaporative cooling towers, which often release water in an aerosol which may enter nearby ventilation intakes. Outbreaks in medical facilities and nursing homes, where patients are immuno-suppressed and immuno-weak, are the most commonly reported cases of Legionellosis. More than one case has involved outdoor fountains in public attractions. The presence of Legionella in commercial building water supplies is highly under-reported, as healthy people require heavy exposure to acquire infection.

There are many bacteria of health significance found in indoor air and on indoor surfaces. The role of microbes in the indoor environment is increasingly studied using modern gene-based analysis of environmental samples. Currently efforts are under way to link microbial ecologists and indoor air scientists to forge new methods for analysis and to better interpret the results.

Many common building materials used before 1975 contain asbestos, such as some floor tiles, ceiling tiles, shingles, fireproofing, heating systems, pipe wrap, taping muds, mastics, and other insulation materials. Normally, significant releases of asbestos fiber do not occur unless the building materials are disturbed, such as by cutting, sanding, drilling, or building remodelling. Removal of asbestos-containing materials is not always optimal because the fibers can be spread into the air during the removal process. A management program for intact asbestos-containing materials is often recommended instead.

Carbon dioxide concentrations increase as a result of human occupancy, but lag in time behind cumulative occupancy and intake of fresh air. The lower the air exchange rate, the slower the buildup of carbon dioxide to quasi "steady state" concentrations on which the NIOSH and UK guidance are based. Therefore, measurements of carbon dioxide for purposes of assessing the adequacy of ventilation need to be made after an extended period of steady occupancy and ventilation - in schools at least 2 hours, and in offices at least 3 hours - for concentrations to be a reasonable indicator of ventilation adequacy. Portable instruments used to measure carbon dioxide should be calibrated frequently, and outdoor measurements used for calculations should be made close in time to indoor measurements. Corrections for temperature effects on measurements made outdoors may also be necessary.

Ozone is produced by ultraviolet light from the Sun hitting the Earth's atmosphere (especially in the ozone layer), lightning, certain high-voltage electric devices (such as air ionizers), and as a by-product of other types of pollution.

In 2015, experimental studies reported the detection of significant episodic (situational) cognitive impairment from impurities in the air breathed by test subjects who were not informed about changes in the air quality. Researchers at the Harvard University and SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University measured the cognitive performance of 24 participants in three different controlled laboratory atmospheres that simulated those found in "conventional" and "green" buildings, as well as green buildings with enhanced ventilation. Performance was evaluated objectively using the widely used Strategic Management Simulation software simulation tool, which is a well-validated assessment test for executive decision-making in an unconstrained situation allowing initiative and improvisation. Significant deficits were observed in the performance scores achieved in increasing concentrations of either volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or carbon dioxide, while keeping other factors constant. The highest impurity levels reached are not uncommon in some classroom or office environments.