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IAQ/Ventilation Questions for P2 Tech Folks
I am writing for advice related to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and
ventilation issues. I do not know much about these issues. However,
I told a group of people working in a poorly ventilated office
building I would ask for advice on this alias.
BACKGROUND ON THE PROBLEM
A non-profit organization re-located to a tightly sealed large 11
story office building with extremely poor ventilation almost a year
ago. The HVAC system has not been working properly since they have
been there. For starters, the building mechanics say the HVAC system
was not designed for closed doors and there are many closed doors in
this building. There is no airflow in elevator waiting areas
(sealed off for security reasons), restrooms, and many other places.
When office and conference room doors are closed there is little to
no airflow. Such closed doors mess up the entire airflow throughout
the office space.
Some offices are extremely cold while others are extremely hot (both
in summer and winter). Employees constantly complain about
stuffiness and temperature problems. One women measured 86 degrees
in her office. Offices are often extremely stifling with no fresh
air and the oxygen level seems extremely low. The mechanics are
constantly tinkering with the system but do not seem to be able to
fix the problems. There also is inconsistency in different parts of
the building and by times of day. For example, on one floor early
morning often seems especially bad because the ventilation system has
been off at night and the HVAC system is not very good at circulating
and bringing in fresh air. In other offices, late in the day seems
bad because the people have been breathing all day in small closed
office spaces without much if any fresh air.
The building mechanics state that it is a poorly designed system.
The organization knows it was poorly designed and are trying to get
it fixed. However, they are not very knowledgeable and see this
mainly as a comfort issue. They also are trying to get the engineers
who designed it so poorly to pay to fix it, which means the process
is taking forever. In the mean time the organization's employees'
health, productivity, and morale are being affected. Employees have
experienced various health symptoms ranging from sleepiness,
breathing problems, light headedness, feeling nauseous, respiratory
infections, headaches, etc. Most are fairly low level and not
everyone is affected nor are they affected all the time. Any time
there is any cleaning, painting, or other activity that involves
chemicals the employees are impacted more because of the poor
ventilation. Many employees have given up complaining and are
avoiding being in the office as much as possible. Some employees
don't even realize the building is impacting them. (One employee who
I spoke with whose office was extremely stuffy said she was going to
go to the doctor because she felt so hot, tired, and sick every
afternoon and thought something was wrong with her. I asked her if
she felt that way on weekends or when she had all day meetings in
other buildings. She said no. I said I think it is from being in
your office in this building.)
One employee complained about IAQ. The building contractors did an
IAQ monitoring test last fall. However, it is unclear if they were
qualified. The results did not show an IAQ. In addition, it is
unclear whether they measured at appropriate places and times of day
when the employee noticed problems. Given all the tinkering with the
system, changes by season, and unpredictability with when and where
there are problems, they may have measured at a time and place that
did not detect the problem. I acquired a copy of the IAQ test
results, but do not have the expertise to analyze them.
Any good documents, web sites, people, or other resources to consult
about this issue would be greatly appreciated. Specific questions I
1. What are the laws requiring ventilation and fresh air intake in
large tightly sealed office buildings?
2. This office building often is like one where the HVAC and
ventilation systems have been shut off during the weekend. Are there
any documented health affects about large numbers of people working
in such buildings?
3. What are considered appropriate ventilation flows and oxygen
levels for such a work environment?
4. If employees wanted to make a more formal complaint who they
should they complain to? A local government environmental agency
(which I believe governs IAQ), OSHA, or someone else? What would be
needed for that agency to inspect the situation and do a reliable
monitoring test? Can they come inspect when the employees notice the
problem (my fear is they will come when it is not a problem)?
5. Who could do a reliable independent monitoring test on oxygen
levels and air flow in the building?
6. What are the long term risks to employees from exposure to such a
7. Are there some good basic simple to understand information sources
about the health and productivity impact of such a situation that I
could give to management and employees to educate them about the
8. Where could I find help about interpreting the IAQ test report?
9. Are there any simple low cost efforts that employees can take to
minimize the impact? For example, would bringing in a lot of plants
help increase the oxygen level? If so which plants? (This may sound
silly, but I thought it might help.) Are there any studies about
plants in the office place and their impact on oxygen levels?
10. Advice about what you think would be needed to fix this problem?
Any information that people think would be helpful would be greatly
appreciated. One friend of mine who works in this building and who
has had on-going health problems related to this issue said he is
counting on me to help them.
Thanks for your help!!!
PS Please do not copy the entire list when responding to this e-mail.
RAND (6th Floor)
1200 South Hayes St.
Arlington, VA 22202-5050
(703) 413-1100 Ext. 5279
On-line Report: "Linking Sustainable Community Activities to
Pollution Prevention: A Sourcebook" at