Defining an indoor air quality problem


Indoor air quality concerns are often grouped into three categories:
  • Comfort issues.
  • Sick building syndrome.
  • Building-related illnesses.
In many cases the categories overlap.

Comfort Issues

These can be described as dissatisfaction with the "feel" of a building environment.
  • Complaints may include:
    • Too hot.
    • Too cold.
    • Stuffy.
    • Drafty.
    • Noisy.
    • Odors.
    • Closeness.
  • This is normally the easiest type of indoor air quality problem to diagnose, but the fix can be difficult to achieve.
    • Satisfying some building occupants may affect the comfort of others.
    • Polling building occupants can give information about comfort issues.
    • Building maintenance, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) personnel are the best people to solve this problem.

Sick Building Syndrome

This has been described as a set of symptoms that affect a significant portion of building occupants.
  • These include:
    • Irritation of mucous membranes (eyes, mouth and nose).
    • Upper respiratory irritation.
    • Headaches.
    • Lethargy.
    • Decreased concentration.
    • Nausea.
  • These symptoms may occur shortly after entering the building and usually disappear after leaving it.
  • Often there are no easily identifiable causes.
  • Inadequate ventilation or building maintenance, misuse of chemical products, or building activities may be the cause.
  • It’s often advisable to contact an independent indoor air quality specialist, listed in the Yellow Pages under the categories of Industrial Hygienists or Environmental Consultants.
    • These professionals can conduct investigations and recommend solutions.

Building Related Illnesses

This is the term for an illness, normally diagnosed by a physician, that can be directly attributed to an occupant’s exposure while in a building.
  • Illnesses include:
    • Legionnaire's disease.
    • Pontiac fever.
    • Humidifier fever.
    • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
  • These illnesses may affect anywhere from a few to the majority of building occupants.
    • It’s important to determine the illnesses quickly, as some can cause lasting damage or be fatal if not treated promptly.
    • The type of disease can give vital clues as to its source and means of spreading.