indoor air quality

The importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) has grown into a global concern due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, IAQ has always been an issue at manufacturing facilities, and keeping employees safe and maintaining regulatory compliance are ongoing challenges.

What is indoor air quality?

Indoor air quality refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures and how it affects the health and comfort of occupants. In the workplace, indoor air can affect a person’s well-being and ability to function on the job. Temperature, humidity, amount of outside air, mold and airborne contaminants all contribute to IAQ. People may experience health effects from indoor air pollutants soon after exposure or years later.

Why is indoor air quality important?

As a point of reference, consider that we need two quarts of clean water every day to keep us healthy—yet we inhale more than 15,000 quarts of air every day. The EPA says Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, where levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels. The EPA consistently ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health. OSHA notes that millions of workers are required to wear respirators in workplaces throughout the U.S. to protect against harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, sprays and insufficient oxygen levels.

Does your facility have an indoor air quality issue?

You and your colleagues might be so used to poor IAQ that you may not be aware of the problem until you look for evidence. Contracting a vendor to provide professional air quality testing is the best way to identify the contaminants and determine if your air exceeds OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) thresholds for airborne contaminants.

Your team can also check for dust on floors, rafters and flat surfaces. If your processes produce mist—wet airborne particles—look for damp walls, surfaces and floors. Also use your nose to sniff out musty or burning smells.

What are health and safety issues related to poor indoor air quality?

Symptoms of poor IAQ can easily be confused for other illnesses, like colds, allergies and influenza. Unhealthy IAQ can cause headaches, coughing, sneezing, eye irritation, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, skin irritation and respiratory or sinus congestion. But these afflictions can be difficult to attribute to IAQ. If employees notice improvement after leaving the facility, then those symptoms might be related to poor IAQ in the workplace. However, more severe health-related issues, such as respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer may surface years after exposure has occurred.

In addition, mist and dust that settle on surfaces also create slipping hazards. And dust on surfaces can lead to an explosion if it comes into contact with an ignition source.

What is PM1?

PM refers to particulate matter. PM1 particulates are extremely fine with a diameter of less than 1 micron. Their size is 70-100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. PM1 particles cannot be filtered by the lungs and can enter your bloodstream. Respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer may show up years after exposure.

How does indoor air quality affect equipment?

Inadequate IAQ also impacts equipment and can cause downtime while waiting for repairs or replacements. This, in turn, leads to production disruption, revenue loss or dissatisfied customers due to delivery delays.

A common problem with poor IAQ is particulates entering your HVAC system, causing it to work harder and less efficiently and to recycle dirty air back into the facility. Dust generated and not controlled on the processing floor can travel to adjacent nonmanufacturing areas through the HVAC system and even by foot traffic.

Dust accumulation can cause electrical devices to overheat and reduce contact in relays and switches. Dust combined with a small amount of moisture can corrode vital equipment components, especially electrical motors, because it causes abrasion and wear.

How can you improve indoor air quality?

Controlling the dust generated by manufacturing processes is critical to maintaining good IAQ. A high-efficiency dust collector with cartridge-style filters can help, but it must be designed specifically for your application, process and dust characteristics to effectively filter particulates and make the indoor environment safer.

Using the right filter media for the job is an important consideration in achieving healthy IAQ. There are basically two types of filter media in dry dust collecting. The first is a nonwoven cellulosic blend called cellulose. Then there is a synthetic polyester or a polyester silicone blend, which is referred to as spunbond. Media also has different efficiency levels, which affects the overall performance of the filters and the dust collector, as well as lifetime total cost of ownership of the system.

Depending on your application needs, you can use specially treated media to aid dust release and efficiency. For example, the best media for statically charged dust or plastic dust is carbon impregnated. Spark-generating applications like welding operations or plasma and laser table processes might require fire retardant media. A good solution for hygroscopic dust that’s sticky and absorbs moisture is spunbond media.

For more information about the importance of indoor air quality and how to achieve it, check out the podcast “Common Indoor Air Quality Issues and Filtration Options” by Taylor Morgan, Regional Sales Manager at Camfil APC.