Indoor Air Resources

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Airborne Contaminants and Their Health Effects


By:   |   05.14.13

Oh no… what is that smell? Unfortunately, this is a question that everyone has asked themselves at one point or another in any office environment. At Healthier Indoor Air we know good IAQ depends on a lot of things but one of the most basic is proper filtration of airborne contaminants.

An airborne contaminant is any substance which is accidentally or unknowingly introduced into the air, making the air we breathe toxic or harmful to some degree. Through inhalation, airborne dust, fumes, vapors, mists, and gases may all be taken into the body. These contaminants can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, or they may be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Indoor air can contain a variety of different airborne contaminants at any one time. Contaminants are emitted by a wide range of products commonly found in commercial and institutional facilities including paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning products, pesticides, office equipment, and a number of other things. Odors, the most recognizable type of airborne contaminant, may come from a variety of sources and can be distracting and annoying to building occupants. Even pleasant odors such as perfumes and air fresheners act as airborne contaminants with the same effects as unpleasant odors and can result in complaints to facility managers.

According to the EPA, some airborne contaminants can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple gaseous contaminants may also produce acute reactions. Health effects of gaseous contaminants can be a drain on personal productivity, may lead to increased absenteeism, and may even result in additional medical costs. 

Fixing the Problem 

Fortunately, most harmful airborne contaminants can be removed with a combination of source removal/reduction, proper ventilation, and an effective gas phase air filtration system. Selecting the right type of filter for your HVAC system is a critical component of delivering a healthy IAQ experience in your building. For more information on selecting the best possible filtration system for your building, see our previous blogs on Understanding the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV).

Take time to talk to your building manager about what they are doing to remove potentially harmful gaseous contaminants from your workplace. Combining a well-balanced particulate filtration strategy with a robust gaseous filtration strategy may provide returns in occupant health and productivity as well as tenant retention.


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